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The Solution to Our Son's Eczema

How Our Knowing the Difference Between Soap and Detergent Saved Our Son from Severe Eczema

When our happy, smiling baby broke out all over with the itchy, angry red rash we eventually knew as eczema, we wanted a solution.

When nothing worked, we determined to track down the cause ourselves. It took us four months of detailed detective work. We were able to eliminate the eczema by eliminating the irritant — to our surprise, it was just one thing — but it was in everything. in Print

A Detergent Sensitivity — Not Soap, Detergent

The cause was detergent. Not a single product, not just in the laundry, but traces of detergents of all types, in our clothing, linens, towels, on our dishes, pots, and pans, on all washed household surfaces, furniture, dust, our hair, skin, and even our food. Eliminating it proved much more difficult than simply switching washing products, rinsing more, or using only water.

After discussions with chemists, microbiologists, and an extensive review of relevant scientific literature, I believe the reaction stems from how skin and other membranes are affected, especially the highly permeable skin of infants. The reaction is not a true allergy, nor were detergents just another "trigger" — though I believe the impact on skin and other membranes significantly increases allergic sensitization.

Helping Other Children With the Same Problem

Since helping our son, this solution has helped many other parents whose children proved to have the same problem, including Denise and Alan Fields, the authors of best-selling books Baby Bargains and Baby 411. (Link to their letter.)  The solution was also inspiration to author/mom Jill Schoff for her green cleaning book Green Up Your Clean Up. (Link to her letter.) 

Eczema has different causes. This solution will not help everyone with eczema. But if the detergent sensitivity described here is the cause of your child’s eczema, this solution could allow you to eliminate the eczema completely.

I have written a letter describing the problem which has been published with minor changes in the newsletters of the National Eczema Association for Science and Education (NEASE) [] and the Eczema Association of Australasia (EAA) []. In 2006, Allergy & Asthma Today Magazine did a cover story in their summer issue [].

Simple Solution, Difficult to Discern

The detergent-reactive eczema described here can easily be mistaken for multiple food allergies, dust mite allergies, random individual product sensitivities, even pollen allergies.

It likely accounts for 25-60% of eczema, depending on the age group and locality, higher if other allergies and an inherited predisposition are factors. Discerning detergent exposures as the underlying cause in any given case is eminently non-obvious.

The solution was simple, but implementing it was difficult. If you think this solution might help you, please read the Disclaimer, the About This Site page, and carefully consider the information provided in those, The Problem, and The Solution pages. Please let me know if it helps, or if the general information leads you to a solution to your child's eczema, even if it is different than this one.

An Asthma Solution, Too

The underlying mechanism for this type of eczema would also amplify asthma and allergies. This solution will not cure asthma, but could substantially minimize it. I have heard from parents who got a child's asthma under control with these measures, even for children who never had eczema. This information may be of interest to anyone with allergies or asthma, even dry or fragile skin, whether or not eczema is an issue.

Questions and Feedback

This web site is a labor of love; it is here because I want every child possible to know what it's like to grow up without the itching, the rashes, the infections. I apologize, but I do not have the resources to help people individually. The first week my letter came out in the NEASE Advocate newsletter, I received a hundred emails, and they kept coming in. I invite feedback, though, and if you have a question or want to share your experience, I read every email. I may not be able to respond quickly, but I will do what I can. Please first read everything that is here already, chances are, the information is here.

Since putting up the site, I have received wonderful, powerful, and touching feedback and thank you letters on a regular basis from parents who cleared up a child's eczema — and often the skin problems of an adult in the household at the same time — with the information on this site.