zoe-hardman

Exclusive: Zoe Hardman reveals son's heartbreaking battle with eczema - and how she blamed herself

Nearly half of children under three suffer from dry skin

Sophie Hamilton

When HELLO! catches up with Heart radio DJ Zoe Hardman she's relatable from the offset. "I'm having one of those mum days when you're trying to juggle too much and you keep dropping your balls," says the cheerful presenter as we start our interview. I can relate – as I chat to Zoe from my home office, my children are watching the Lego Movie next door.

"We've learnt so much during lockdown that we can do more than we thought," says Zoe, who is mum to son Kit, two, Luna, three and her stepdaughter, Isla, seven. "But also we can get our jobs done and be really great mums as well."

"I also think we've [previously] filled up our time with going to this farm or spending 60 quid on this or going to a soft play – and actually, it's ok for them to be bored and watch Trolls."

MORE: Saving my skin: a dermatologist's take on eczema causes, treatment and skincare routines

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Zoe looking glamorous on the red carpet

Zoe is speaking to us today as she's working with Baby Dove, who have launched a new skincare range called Dermacare, suitable for babies prone to eczema or dry skin.

A new study by the skincare brand revealed that almost half of children under three experience dry or sensitive skin yet 59% of parents don't realise how common it is and over half blame themselves for their baby's skin issues.

Zoe, 37, who is married to retired English rugby player Paul Doran-Jones has experienced this first-hand, as her son Kit suffers with eczema.

MORE: 11 of the cutest celebrity pregnancy announcements in lockdown

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Zoe with her son Kit

She told us: "I was so over the moon when Kit was born, but we started having problems – he had terrible reflux and a cow's milk allergy. With that came terrible eczema. It was really heartbreaking for us as a family because every time we'd give him a bath, he'd break out in hives - there would be a horrendous rash. Sometimes I'd find him in the morning in his cot and he'd have scratched himself so badly that he'd be bleeding on his shoulders."

"Even the most beautiful moment like bath time where you're meant to have this really fun time with your kid, just water on his skin was absolutely horrendous. I've been on a real journey with Kit."

Fortunately, Zoe found a product that worked. "I was desperate to find products that didn't irritate his skin and the Baby Dove products really help relieve that intense dryness. It was pretty hit and miss and hard to find something that actually worked, and as a mum you're doing everything desperately to try and fix your child. I felt like a failure."

MORE: The top 20 coolest baby names for boys and girls in 2020 – and they're eco-friendly too!

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Bathtimes would be difficult for Zoe and Kit

Zoe also spoke about the effect that seeing photos of babies with perfectly clear skin on social media can have.

"I think the way that Instagram is curated these days, you see all these images of super soft baby skin. Kit was the complete opposite of that to the point where I was putting it up on my personal Instagram to really highlight that this isn't what the reality is for a lot of parents."

Sadly, nearly one in five parents have seen other parents add filters to their baby's skin on Instagram – something which Zoe says is unnecessary.

She says: "It's devastating because there's absolutely no shame or embarrassment when it comes to eczema, and that taboo needs to be busted open and the lid needs to be lifted off that. A lot of children are going through this."

"We need to be talking about it, trying different things and we need to normalise it because it can be really horrendous - but it can get better as well. It's not something that necessarily stays with you for the rest of your life."

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Zoe with husband Paul

And while people may mean well with their advice on eczema, Zoe reveals that all the comments can be overwhelming. She says it's frustrating when you've tried to treat the eczema but nothing works.

"It's really frustrating and really sad because the last thing you ever wanted to see is your child's skin that inflamed, that irritated," the mum-of-three tells us.

"But also, what triggers eczema? People would send me messages on Instagram going 'Oh you need to try this and you need to try that' – my brain felt like it was going to explode, because what is the right answer? What I really wanted to do was find a product that didn't set it off.

"I was using coconut oil on him and then I got a message from one of my friends saying 'Stop using coconut oil, the nut sets off loads of allergies'. I think that you just don't know."

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Kit enjoying himself outside

Thankfully, Zoe found a wonderful support network of parents going through the same thing with their children, who the star says are, 'So helpful, so lovely'.

"When your child has eczema the way that Kit does, I felt very isolated, very lonely."

"People who don't have a child who has eczema might go 'Oh what's she talking about, lonely and isolated'? But you're just blaming yourself. So you're lying there at night thinking what am I doing? I've had an overwhelming response from other parents showing their support."

In addition to the Dermacare products, Zoe explains that focusing on Kit's gut health has helped alleviate his eczema too.

"I definitely don't think it's just a one-pronged attack," she says. "I think for me, it's all about the digestion and making sure that he's eating the right things. He had bad reflux as a baby, so we used probiotics and quite a lot of Chinese herbs - so you can hit it from the inside and then Baby Dove combats the exterior."

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Zoe loves her presenting job at Heart FM

Thankfully Kit's eczema is now improving and Zoe is super busy with her Heart FM show and her Made by Mammas podcast, which recently featured a chat with Jools Oliver and will soon welcome Myleene Klass.

As for life at home in lockdown, Zoe admits: "I mean it's been absolutely crazy, hasn't it? Some of the best days of your life followed by some of the worst." Yes, we can relate.

"You're having these passive-aggressive arguments while you stack the dishwasher and then you try and storm out but you've got nowhere to go apart from the downstairs loo. It's definitely been up and down for us."

She adds: "As a family it's brought us closer together which is great. Things have just been a bit simpler - just playing at home and going for walks in the woods. We're so lucky where we live. We live outside of London and we've got this amazing woodland area opposite our house and we go and build dens and swim in the lake – it's just lovely."

Zoe Hardman has partnered with Baby Dove for the launch of its new Dermacare range. Suitable for babies who may be prone to eczema, the range has been formulated with colloidal oatmeal and prebiotic moisturiser, to gently cleanse, soothe and moisturise your baby’s dry or sensitive skin. Available exclusively at Boots.