Soaps for Children with Atopic Skin

The choice of soaps for children with atopic skin is essential in the management of this condition which usually resolves over time.
Soaps for Children with Atopic Skin
Maria del Carmen Hernandez

Written and verified by the dermatologist Maria del Carmen Hernandez.

Last update: 16 December, 2022

Not only medications are effective for sensitive skin, but also certain soaps can bring about positive changes in children with atopic skin. Maintaining an intact skin barrier in an optimal functional condition is one of the key recommendations in the management of this common childhood condition.

What is atopic skin?

Atopic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that usually occurs in early childhood. The causes are varied and complex and involve environmental and genetic factors.

It occurs in 10% to 30% of children, with a defective skin barrier that’s susceptible to environmental allergens or irritants. Thus, dysregulation of the epithelial barrier allows them to penetrate the skin and cause inflammation.

Clinical manifestations

The clinical findings of the disease depend on the age group affected. Therefore, in children, there’s a higher prevalence of patches and plaques with less exudation in the popliteal and antecubital fossae.

  • Xerosis
  • Inflammation
  • Pruritus
  • Erythema
  • Peeling

The presence of Staphylococcus Aureus can worsen the inflammation of the characteristic lesions of atopic eczema and develop a secondary infection.

A child washing their hands.
Daily care is essential to maintain a functional and healthy skin barrier. To this end, moisturizing soaps and other specific products are recommended.

Soaps that are suitable for children with atopic skin

There are four fundamental pillars in the treatment of atopic skin. Namely:

  1. Avoidance of triggers
  2. Anti-inflammatory treatment
  3. Complementary methods
  4. Daily skincare

Emollients, moisturizing soaps, and specific hygiene products are recommended to protect atopic skin in children. To promote the best care, the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology details some tips that we’ll mention below.

The correct ph of the soap

The use of strong detergents or soaps should be avoided. That is, the normal pH level of the skin surface is 4 to 5 (neutral pH), while the average pH level of soaps is 9 to 10. These types of products increase the pH of the skin to values that are unhealthy and can exacerbate the symptoms of atopic skin. In contrast, pH-neutral soaps are free of artificial colorants, fragrances, and chemicals during production.

Avoid sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)

Most soaps contain sodium lauryl sulfate, a surfactant found in detergents, shampoos, and facial cleansers. In fact, it has the property of degreasing and removing dirt.

Its action as a cleanser is quite effective and doesn’t generate side effects, even when used in body or facial presentations. However, surfactants tend to have an astringent action on the skin, causing increased xerosis or dry skin. A publication in Experimental Dermatology even concludes that it often causes irritation and inflammatory reactions.

Soap in baths and showers

Soap should be used alone, without using sponges or washcloths that can scratch and worsen the clinical manifestations of sensitive skin. Overwashing this type of skin can be detrimental to its natural protective skin barrier.

At the same time, bubble bathing isn’t recommended. In fact, short baths with lukewarm water are ideal for this type of skin. Then, immediately after drying the skin without rubbing it with a towel, you should moisturize it.

Bubble baths aren’t recommended for children with atopic dermatitis. In addition, sponges and washcloths shouldn’t be used to apply the soap.

Choose soaps with certain components

Lanolin and hyaluronic acid are two active ingredients that have great moisturizing power. In addition, it’s a good idea to use syndet soap (without detergents) because it doesn’t contain sodium lauryl sulfate, the chemical that causes the foaming action of products and has the ability to irritate the skin.

Soaps with certain essential oils or with a high shea butter content have positive effects on children with atopic skin. In fact, shea butter has great healing properties, moisturizing effects, and a high capacity to retain water.

The washing of clothing

The washing of clothing should be with specific soaps for sensitive skin. These should be rinsed extra thoroughly to remove any remaining residue. At the same time, sheets and towels should have the same washing process as clothes, as they’re in direct contact with the skin at bedtime.

Atopic dermatitis in childhood

In most cases, children with atopic dermatitis improve over time. However, it’s always best to continue hygiene and care measures to keep the lipid mantle of the skin surface functional. In addition, remissions and relapses may occur and require management with medication. Self-medication or the use of home remedies is never recommended.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Cork MJ, Danby SG, Vasilopoulos Y, et al. Epidermal barrier dysfunction in atopic eczema. J Inves Dermatol 2009;129(8):1892-1908.
  • Neppelberg E, Costea DE, Vintermyr OK, Johannessen AC. Dual effects of sodium lauryl sulphate on human oral epithelial structure. Exp Dermatol. 2007 Jul;16(7):574-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0625.2007.00567.x. PMID: 17576237.
  • Braun F, Lachmann D, Zweymüller E. Der Einfluss eines synthetischen Detergens (Syndet) auf das pH der Haut von Säuglingen [Effect of a synthetic detergent (Syndet) on the pH of the skin of infants]. Hautarzt. 1986 Jun;37(6):329-34. German. PMID: 3087911.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.