When Thumb Sucking Triggers Eczema

There’s something that seems so natural and even primal about thumb sucking. All infants are born with a need to suck (beyond eating), Freud described this as the oral stage in his psychoanalytic theory, and some babies suck their fingers in the uterus before birth. It was cute back then

So many kids do it at one time or another, and it seems to have some benefits. Thumb sucking helps kids wean from breastfeeding by providing a comforting replacement as they get used to solid foods. It also soothes and relaxes them, and many parents have noticed that thumb sucking is the one thing that helps their child drift off to sleep.

If there’s one thing about thumb-sucking parents love, it’s convenience. Unlike pacifiers and teething toys, the thumb goes wherever your child goes and it’s pretty hard to misplace it. Kids can wake up in the middle of the night and have instant access to their thumb which could put them back to sleep pretty quickly – a great treat for any parent who enjoys getting as much rest as they can. Some pediatricians believe that letting a newborn suck on a pacifier (binky) may help them resist the impulse to start sucking their fingers later in life. But it’s the convenience and availability of the thumb that causes the issue — but now your child is 3 or 4, and getting them to stop sucking their thumb seems about as easy as convincing them that the blue cup is just as good as the red one. In other words, it’s never gonna happen. As a result, they require something to suck on.


When kids suck their thumbs or bite their nails, they do put all sorts of new germs into their mouths and therefore their bodies. Thumbs can be overused leading to damage to the skin, breeding ground for bacteria and infection due to the extended wetness, it can also encourage dryness cycles that challenge the natural moisture retention of the skin, and we haven’t even touched on the possibility of the big B word- Braces.

With the above thoughts, what can we do as parents when thumb sucking actually causes eczema flare-ups? Skin infections and peri-oral dermatitis can result from thumb and finger sucking.  The moisture, saliva, and irritation that thumb sucking can cause on the skin can be a really effective trigger to start a flare-up – and flare-ups on the fingers and hands can be really hard to deal with. If your child is a thumb sucker and you’re probably noticing dryness, cracking, calluses, nail thinning, or even splitting and more, it may be time to weigh out the pros and cons of thumb sucking and see if it’s time to help your child transition to another comfort. Otherwise, we will have to treat eczema and infection in the pediatric office. 

 Many children suck to relieve anxiety, and making them anxious about sucking can backfire! If this is the case for your child or you’re starting to think about what the future could bring, here are some things you may want to try…

Praise Children for Not Doing It 

Help them find other ways of soothing themselves. While managing a pacifier or teething toy can be a real bother, it may be one of the best things you can do to help minimize the damaging effects of thumb sucking. Whenever possible provide your child with these items to give the thumb rest. Think of it as giving the thumb time to heal and strengthen.

Thumb Support

If you find that your child’s thumbs are getting damaged, introduce the Yuck Effect – bad-tasting polish applied to the fingers, oils, or creams designed to taste terrible and deter the desire to suck.

Constantly apply oils, ointments, and other creams to replenish moisture and repair damaged skin faster. Which leads me to my next point…

Cover Up

A simple way to give the thumbs a break and even allow any healing ointments to soak in and do their work is to cover the hands. ScratchMeNot Flip Mittens work great in this situation, and they make it easy for you to cover the thumbs while you provide an alternative comforting activity for your child. On the plus side, these are chemical-free and mostly childproof so your child can’t remove them.– twice the effectiveness!

Your little one may be not super excited about the inaccessibility of their thumb and it’s a normal reaction to removing their main comfort. We’ve found it easier to break the habit before a little one is 1 year old, yet even if the habit continues into preschool, a conversation between parent and child can begin to explain what’s going on and start a reward system for not sucking their thumb can begin. Also, there are other products you can use outside of mittens such as thumb guards. They create a barrier around the thumb to make the sucking action less effective.


My Story

My daughter’s eczema flared and nails began to thin & split when constantly thumb sucking so we had to take matters into our own hands and ween this habit early. At 6 months, we began the journey of ScratchMeNot use to stop the thumb sucking.  I can say consistency at night and during idle moments is key. It has interrupted her sleeping throughout the night, but she is quickly adapting to this new change….

It’s been about 2 weeks and her eczema has completely healed and her nails are growing faster…. stay tuned for an update.

To see the full line of mittens available now, visit https://www.scratchmenot.com

Do you have any tips or ideas about cutting down on thumb sucking?

Share them with us in the comments below!


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