A chameleon lizard baby emerges from a shell in the jungle with red scales.

It’s Not Baby Acne, It's Eczema

Last updated: November 2022

When I brought my first child home from the hospital, I was very well-read on what to expect, having been home for several weeks, nearly immobile with sciatic pain and bored on early maternity leave, with nothing to do but wait for my new occupation to arrive. When she came home, scowling and hungry, she started developing what we thought was the very normal baby acne, a result of my hormones post-birth.

Why wasn't the acne clearing up?

When the acne didn’t clear up after a few days and got scalier and angrier, I got concerned, yes, but also a little depressed. My baby wasn’t…cute. She didn’t smile. She cried weirdly, more like a little cough, seemingly constantly. She had yellow, flakey cradle cap on her bald head, and her body was covered in red scales. I didn’t want to be seen as an idiot by my new doctor, though. I wanted to get an A in first-time parenting. So, I carted around my little lizard monster until her next check-up.

Did eczema run in the family?

“That acne’s really sticking around, isn’t it?” I said to the doctor.

“That’s not acne,” she said. “That’s eczema.”

She asked us if we had a history of eczema. I had sensitive skin and a history of allergies but not eczema. My husband shrugged.

When we got home, and my mother-in-law came over to help out, I told her about the diagnosis.

“Oh yeah, all my kids had that,” she said off-handedly. “I had to double rinse all the laundry.”

Why didn't I ask for help?

I felt horribly guilty. I’d been too proud to ask for help, and my baby had been living her first few weeks with this rash all over her body because I didn’t get it looked at. I vowed to tackle this issue. If I couldn’t get an A in “eczema spotting,” I could at least get an A in “eczema treating.”

What did I start doing?

We were already using fragrance-free detergent, but I did start double rinsing. We stopped using dryer sheets. I got rid of all fleece jammies, and we switched to only 100% cotton.

What did our doctor recommend?

The doctor had us do a “regimen,” she called it, of washing our daughter in water every morning, using Dove bar soap if necessary on any excessively soiled folds of her precious new skin, and then patting her dry. We were to slather her in petroleum jelly and then, without dropping her, wrestle her into a onesie made of soft terry cloth. It had a hood so the oil wouldn’t get everywhere. Then we’d marinate her for several hours until she had absorbed the potion. She prescribed us cream for the very angry spots.

The doctor warned us that the petroleum jelly might not be the topical goo that would do the trick and we might need to experiment. She also warned that the towel might get too hot and create a heat rash feedback loop. She wanted our daughter to get plenty of time out of the oiled towel, too.

Did the treatment regimen work?

Our diligence worked. Her skin cleared up. She also started smiling and laughing. She wasn’t so desperately hungry all the time. She still, at age 8, scowls a lot and, last I checked, still gets cradle cap if I don’t have her use a special shampoo. She also still gets eczema patches from time to time. However, never has she ever turned into the lizard monster again. We loved our little lizard monster, but for her sake, we’re glad her uncomfortable scales cleared.

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