Laundry, Clothing and Eczema
Nothing is in closer contact with skin than the clothes your baby wears and so getting clothing and laundry right could be the single most important thing you can do for your child. Signs that clothing or laundry are triggers for your baby’s eczema include things like full body eczema, intense itching, eczema that worsens on contact with water, or a clear nappy area.
Every person’s skin is unique and what works for one individual won’t be the answer for another. Personally I think it is absolutely critical that eczema babies have clothing that is safe, comfortable and non-irritating.
A very common eczema trigger seems to be detergents. Simply changing laundry products to Non-Bio is often nowhere near enough. Below is a photo of my friend’s little girl’s leg after her tights were accidentally washed in a non bio powder. Her clothes are normally only washed in Ecoballs. Like food sensitivities this is a difficult issue to try and resolve because it’s the residues left in clothes after washing that seem to be the eczema trigger, and these residues can be very persistent and difficult to remove.
“Tests done in 1995 at the Clemson University School of Textiles and Polymer Science showed that washing in regular detergent actually added a measurable amount of weight (contamination) to the clothes. Washing added 2% of the weight of the cloth in just 10 washings. The residue was equal to the full amount of detergent recommended to wash clothes. Let me be specific about this. When you pour in the detergent before the wash cycle, the amount used is equal to the amount of chemical left in the clothes after 10 washes. It doesn't increase much beyond 10 washes because you reach a point where you are washing out as much as you are washing in.”
I was shocked to find the reason my laundry was so stiff was actually a build up of detergent residue in it, and to combat this I’d been adding fabric softener, even more chemical residue, into our clothing. All of these chemicals (with a warning of irritant on their bottles) had been sitting all day in constant contact with my baby’s warm delicate skin.
Even after switching to another washing solution, it will take many washes to rid the clothes of chemical residue already present in the fibres. This is one reason I ended up buying new clothes for my baby, he’d have grown out of his clothes before I managed to find a way of washing them till they were safe for him.
I’ve heard and read many success stories from people who saw radical improvements in eczema after changing the way they launder clothes.
Solveeczema Is the best of these by far. A story of a mum who rid her little boy of severe eczema by switching to all soap based products. I truly think this is very important reading for anyone serious about trying to rid there baby from eczema symptoms.
Eco-balls offer an alternative way of cleaning, as do soap nuts a natural fruit that can be used in laundry (It is used extensively in ayurveda for problem skin conditions). They both offer a laundry cleaning soloution leaving little to no residue in clothing. Although they may not get clothes as brilliantly white as we’ve come to expect using modern detergents, this is a sacrifice many people are more than happy to make.
Old fashioned Soap flakes are especially kind to skin and clean clothes well, but will still leave a residue and scum build up (especially in hard water areas). So they will take a bit more rinseing and possibly additions of washing soda crystals too.
There are also powders available in supermarkets that are made to be kinder to sensitive skins, Surecare is one brand. If you do choose to use a detergent often 1/2 the recommended amount of product can be just as effective at cleaning but less irritating and an extra rinse cycle is a good idea too. Bicarbonate of soda can also help. It removes smells, stains and some hard water residues, leaving clothes fresh and soft.
Fabric softener should be avoided. If you’re washing with something that doesn’t leave a residue in your clothes, you’ll find that your clothes are naturally soft anyway. Another option is a little white viniger in the softner compartment.
Testing what’s right for you
It takes more than a couple of washes to know whether a new washing solution is better than a previous one, because a combination of several washing product residues may well be even more irritating than just one.
We found also it wasn’t just the baby’s clothes that needed a safe washing solution; small children spend so much time in your arms and against your clothing that making the change for everyone will have better results. While our son’s skin was still recovering you could see his little head and face redden when he was being held by a friend whose clothing was washed in regular powders.
Clothes and laundry have such a big impact on eczema that I can’t stress enough how important it is to get right. There are no easy answers here and what is fine for one person won’t be fine for another; it really is careful trial and error. Clothing sits so close to the skin that it really is worth the effort to make sure it’s as safe as possible for your child.
I knew my little boy was having a problem with fabrics, but I really struggled in making things safe for him to wear, even now after an hour in something not right for him, the little red spots that signal the start of a break out will appear on his skin.
I ordered new organic vests for my baby; these have only ever been washed in water with either a tiny bit of bicarbonate of soda or spot cleaned with pure mild hand soap. All his items are hand washed. They’re not as clean or as fresh smelling as I might like, but that’s a tiny price to pay for a lovely non itchy tummy!
Update – Josh is now a year old; amongst his triggers he has is a very extreme contact reaction to all detergents. He still can ware only organic clothing; hand washed in organic soap. Our house is detergent free as the smallest trace is enough to trigger the frantic itching. Having said that for the most part his skin is amazing; people are surprised when I tell them he has eczema.
Cotton, bamboo and silk are all natural fabrics and allow the skin to breathe; meaning that these fabrics are generally best for sensitive baby skin. Organic certified products are also free from reaction causing chemicals such as formaldehyde. Organic fabrics are much softer and more breathable than regular cotton products making them a superior choice for delicate baby skin. Check clothing for tags and labels that may rub and itch.
One final tip!
Something I found helpful while my boy’s skin was at its worst was emolliating his clothing! I’d use a blob of emollient in warm water in the sink to rinse vests in (using it like a fabric softener). Once his vests were dry I’d smear lots of emollient on the fabric on the inside of his vests, then let this dry again before putting the vest on him. This drastically improved the condition of the skin there and helped it heal.