Eczema Free Forever™

Allergic Contact Dermatitis in Children (II) – Q&A with Dr Steve Xu

This is a continuation of last week’s interview with Dr Steve Xu MD MSc where we discussed contact dermatitis, the differences between irritant and contact dermatitis, the top 10 pediatric contact allergens in personal hygiene products and practical consideration of when to suspect contact dermatitis in a child.

Dr Steve Xu, MD MSc is currently a 2nd year dermatology resident at McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University. He earned his MD from Harvard as a Soros Fellow, and a Masters in Health Policy and Finance from The London School of Economics as a Marshall Scholar. He completed a BS in bioengineering at Rice University. For his academic interests, Steve is focused on consumer education and the intersection between health policy and clinical medicine. His publications have appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine, and PLOS Medicine garnering broad press attention from sources such as CNN, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times. Dr Steve has created a web resource for patients with eczema and contact dermatitis at itchyrash.org. See also Dr Steve’s publications at the end of last week’s post.

Dermatologist Dr Steve Xu MD

Dr Steve Xu MD, MSc

On ‘Bland’ Skincare Products

MarcieMom: I’ve emphasized in my blog that the fewer the ingredients, the less likely it is to irritate (such as in this expert interview and also in the moisturizer selection post)

Yet, practically (I’m finding myself using this word so frequently in this 2-part interview! It must be that it is so hard to take practical steps when it comes to skincare products and figuring out irritants, allergens and pushing through the myriad of chemical names!) and yes, practically it can be difficult to find a skincare product with less than 10 ingredients! Pharmaceutical companies seem to add more ingredients to their formulation in order to ‘upgrade’ their product to one that can restore your skin’s lipids, ceramides, reduce itch and bacterial infection.

MarcieMom: Is there a trend towards more ingredients in the formulation of skincare products? And is it a real risk or can consumers assume that product companies would have tested their increasingly complex formulation that it would not lead to contact dermatitis? 

Dr Steve Xu: Again, labels such as ‘hypo-allergenic’ or ‘sensitive skin’ really don’t mean anything. The Food and Drug Administration do not regulate this definition. Consumers have to be aware of this.

I wouldn’t say there’s a trend towards more ingredients in skincare products. Skincare products aren’t produced for hypo-allergenicity. These products are successful because they smell nice (fragrances), feel good on the skin, and stay fresh (preservatives). I think for individuals with patch-test proven allergic contact dermatitis, it’s really important to follow the safe list. But, if you haven’t been patch tested yet and have very sensitive skin, then looking for products with as few ingredients as possible AND do not have common skin allergens is a reasonable consideration.

Moisturizer Selection

Moisturizer Selection – Reducing possible contact allergens

MarcieMom: Staph bacteria has been covered in my blog, and we know that eczema skin that has staph bacteria colonization will not recover well due to inflammatory toxins from the bacteria. Are moisturizers for eczema/ dry skin incorporating antiseptic properties? Which antiseptics are now recommended for eczema children and how likely are these to irritate skin?

Dr Steve Xu: Absolutely, treating staph colonization is a big component of successfully treating atopic dermatitis. Moisturizers typically don’t have anti-bacterial ingredients. But, we do know that impaired or broken skin barrier facilitates the colonization and growth of staph. Thus, moisturizers play a big role in keeping the skin barrier intact so that staph can’t cause problems.

At least in the U.S., we hardly ever specifically recommend an ‘anti-septic’ moisturizer. It’s interesting to see that there are products out there marketed as such. We separate the use of moisturizers (barrier protection) and the elimination of colonizing bacteria (mupirocin ointment, bleach bathes). Typically for our patients, we always recommend moisturizers for skin barrier preservation but tend to be more reactive when it comes to recommending bleach bathes or mupirocin ointment at the sign of super infection (formation of pustules).

With that being said, lauric acid is certainly an ingredient that is becoming more and more popular. It is the key component in coconut oil, which has shown to have a broad range of antibacterial properties.

Long-story short, I think there’s probably a benefit from using antiseptics more regularly in managing atopic dermatitis. We know that the skin of eczema children have less anti-microbial peptides, natural bacteria fighting proteins produced by the skin. There’s no great head to head studies comparing coconut oil (moisturizer + anti-septic properties) vs. a regular moisturizer in managing atopic dermatitis. But, I think there is some benefit here that may be real for some patients that have a particular sensitivity to staph colonization.

Skin of eczema children is more susceptible to staph bacteria colonization

Skin of eczema children is more susceptible to staph bacteria colonization

Also, common over-the-counter topical antibiotics such as neomycin and bacitracin are notorious agents for causing allergic contact dermatitis. We typically do not recommend these for children with atopic dermatitis. In the United States, we prefer topical mupirocin (prescription only). This medication rarely causes allergic contact dermatitis compared to neomycin or bacitracin.

Age of Allergic Contact Dermatitis

In the article1, it was mentioned that studies have shown that there are different age (timing) where there is peak prevalence of contact allergy among children, being

  1. 0 – 3 years old – could be due to immature skin barrier, including lower lipid content, fewer natural moisturizing components, higher pH and thinner epidermis
  2. 6 – 7 years old
  3. Adolescence

MarcieMom: Are there a certain group of children who is more likely to have contact dermatitis? Narrowing this further, is there a particular profile of eczema children who are more likely to also have contact dermatitis?

Dr Steve Xu: This is a great question. I think certainly, older children and adolescents will have had greater exposure to potential allergens over time. However, an allergic contact dermatitis can occur at any age including toddlers. I think the most important thing is to have a high index of suspicion for allergic contact dermatitis in children with atopic dermatitis.

Is your child’s atopic dermatitis not getting better despite the best therapy?

Is your child’s atopic dermatitis appearing in areas that it never appeared before?

Are there eczematous rashes that seem to happen in the same locations such as the belly button, neck, waistband or wrist? Do the rashes appear linear (straight) or rectangular?

We’ve had plenty of pediatric patients with stable atopic dermatitis that would inexplicably get worse or not respond to therapy. After patch testing, we would identify a common allergen such as nickel. The rashes won’t get better unless nickel is avoided.

Corticosteroids

In the article1, it was mentioned that the most “allergenic” corticosteroids are:

  1. Budesonide
  2. Trixocortal pivalate
  3. Hydrocortisone butyrate

The least allergenic are those with halogenated C16-methylated molecules and in order of increasing potency:

  1. Aclomethasone dipropionate
  2. Beta-methasone valerate
  3. Memoetasone furoate
  4. Desoximethasone
  5. Clobatesol propionate
Corticosteroids - Potency and Allergenicity

Corticosteroids – Potency and Allergenicity

Again, there is the possibility of children with atopic dermatitis using more topical steroids and therefore getting hypersensitive to it overtime.

MarieMom: The article mentioned classifying topical steroid creams using different groups, based on their likelihood of being contact allergens. The likelihood can be due to different molecular (steroid) structure, the other non-steroid ingredients in the prescription cream, how long it is used and how occlusive it is (topical steroid creams are not recommended with wet wraps as absorption rates are higher than intended when occluded).

MarcieMom: What are the common steroid creams prescribed for young children with eczema? And how likely will they cause contact dermatitis?

Dr Steve Xu: Overall, a true allergic contact dermatitis to topical steroids is quite rare. Aclomethasone and desoximethasone are both popular choices.

I will say that sometimes it’s better judicious to not always reach for the least hypo-allergenic topical steroid at first. In the vast majority of time, a children will not have a contact allergy to a topical steroid. If we reach for a hypo-allergenic topical steroid and a contact allergy does develop, we have less therapeutic options in the future.

MarcieMom: Thank you Dr Steve for your time to help with this series; really glad for this interview as it has certainly raised my awareness of contact dermatitis in children (where previously thought to be remote). Also appreciate the work that you’re doing at itchyrash.org

References:

  1. Hannah Hill, Alina Goldenberg, Linda Golkar, Kristyn Beck, Judith Williams & Sharon E. Jacob (2016): Pre-Emptive Avoidance Strategy (P.E.A.S.) – addressing allergic contact dermatitis in pediatric populations, Expert Review of Clinical Immunology, DOI: 10.1586/1744666X.2016.1142373

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