New Au Pair Has A Rash: Could it be the water?

by cv harquail on August 1, 2017

Has this ever happened to you or your au pair?


Our au pair has been with us for a little over 2 weeks. She has a rash that has spread over her arms, trunk, and neck.

 She’s certain this is from our water.

This is our 8th au pair in as many years, and we’ve never had this challenge before.

All of our other au pairs have been from Europe, and this one is from Mexico.

Have other host families had au pairs that have contracted a rash?

I was thinking it might be our milk, not the water. She has tried her allergy medicine from home, but it isn’t working.

She is working with our area director to find out more about her insurance coverage and options so that she can see a physician (allergist or dermatologist).

I’d love to be able to help her on our end, especially if we can identify the actual source of the rash.   Any thoughts or ideas?

Image by Dan4th on Flickr


JamieH August 1, 2017 at 11:11 pm

Laundry detergent can commonly cause skin issues. I would suggest Benadryl to help the rash go away. I would wash all of her clothes, sheets and towels in a sensitive detergent (one made for babies would be perfect). I would also be sure she uses a very mild soap for now (dove?).

The real challenge is it could be anything! Try to eliminate common allergy triggers and see if that helps.

A August 1, 2017 at 11:20 pm

Great suggestions! I didn’t even think about the clothing detergent. Thank you.

kat August 6, 2017 at 1:09 pm

i would try non parfum eco-friendly laundy powder and avoid laundry softener. ideally dry the laundry outside in the sun. use plain soap, avoid anything with parfum. avoiding dairy products might also help, if only to get over a period of time. it might also be something in food, esp. if you buy processed food. good luck

2 kids and a cat August 2, 2017 at 7:17 am

Allergies are cumulative, so it could be several smaller things that never bothered her but are now sending her body into a reaction. Cow dairy, strawberries, shellfish, dust mites, and on and on. It could also be the detergent (or fabric softener) on her sheets, towels, and now clothes.

TexasHM August 2, 2017 at 7:25 am

It could be stress! That’s the problem it really could be anything!

German Hostmom August 2, 2017 at 9:15 am

It really could be the water. I am from Germany and when I moved to the United States I had skin problems with a terrible rush. I got a cortisone cream but what really helped was just getting used to it. It took some weeks and my skin got used to the different water. I still have a little skin problems whenever I have been to Germany for a longer time and then come back to the United States. The problem for me was the chlorine in the American water. So the best idea is probably to just wait. And of course, stress can be a reason as well.

WestMom August 2, 2017 at 9:59 am

As someone with very sensitive skin and eczema, here is what I would recommend…

1) Start with all the soaps and detergent. Buy her detergent for sensitive skin (I use All Free and Clear, but Tide, makes one also or you can use baby detergent). Ask her to wash all her clothes and bedding. Do not use any softener, ever. Buy the liquid, not powder. Use just a bit of soap and make sure to dissolve the soap in water before you put the clothes in the washer. Replace her body soap with unscented baby soap for now and see how that goes.

2) She can treat the rash with OTC creams. Aveeno, Eucerin, Cetaphil are great. All do a eczema version that is very calming. Topical hydrocortisone helps with the flare ups (but don’t use too much, there are long term side effects). When my flare ups are pretty bad, I also use Zyrtec (more than Benadryl, which really puts you to sleep). Wear cotton or natural fibers.

3) Diet is perhaps (and likely) a culprit too. I laid off gluten a few years ago because my husband was diagnosed as intolerant due a joint disease, and my eczema cleared up within a month! No doubt that a diet change for your AP might trigger some changes with her skin as well (she might not be used to the same amounts of processed foods, pesticides, GMO, etc.). She may want to take turn limiting her intake of a few well known culprits to see if it helps (dairy, gluten, eggs, soy).

4) Do you have a pet? Just wondering, I do get sneezy and itchy around cats… Wouldn’t want to overlook anything…

5) Believe it or now, I get flare ups (or my skin improves dramatically) because of the weather. Really cold/dry and really hot/humid weather are terrible for my skin. Hot and dry seems to clear everything. I also lived in places with very ‘hard’ water (high levels of calcium/magnesium) and my eczema improved there, perhaps it helped overall?

Sorry I don’t have the answer to your original question, but hopefully your AP will feel better soon and will adjust to her new environment!

WestMom August 2, 2017 at 2:35 pm

Just want to add another note about the water…

I have no idea about the drinking water and how that might affect eczema, I have had bottles, filtered and tap and lived in 3 countries and have not noticed any difference from ingesting water.

Topical exposure to water in another thing, but I would be immensely surprised that it would cause such as rash. Case and point, I have been an athlete swimmer for years spent a minimum of 3 hours in a chlorinated pool on weekly basis since I was very young (and still do). Yes chlorine will exacerbate a skin condition for someone with an already sensitive skin, but I would be very surprised that a very small amount of chlorine from daily showering would trigger such a reaction. Sounds like the least likely scenario.

German Hostmom August 2, 2017 at 4:01 pm

It really depends on how sensitive your skin is. I always have terrible skin problems when I am somewhere where the water contains more chlorine. Had the problem when I moved to France and also when I moved to the United States. But as I said my skin usually adjusts to the different water within a few weeks.

kat August 6, 2017 at 1:13 pm

skin can be sensitive in many ways. i even used to get a mild rash when moving to scotland, where i expect the water was better then back at home.

DCmom August 2, 2017 at 10:07 am

I think this is opportunity knocking… does she have the potential to be a rock star au pair? If not, you might want to suggest a rematch for “her heath.”

Why? Because you said she is “certain” that it’s the water. This is without having gone to the doctor. Personally, I screen for less dominant personalities while others prefer them. Yes, she is suffering from a rash and that’s terrible. However, this “certainty” would just annoy me. Like previous posters have suggested, try a free and clear laundry detergent and consider dietary changes as well as a doctor’s visit for a real diagnosis/creams.

If she’s really sensitive to the water (really, this sounds absolutely ridiculous to me), then consider what the solution is. Are you willing to try a $20 shower filter attachment and replace the filter every 2-3 months (think Brita for the showerhead)? Are you willing to install a whole house filter (hundreds to thousands of dollars) because she won’t wash any dishes since it involves rinsing them off with water before putting in the dishwasher or touching wet laundry to move to the dryer because of the water? Also, with these examples, how is she going to function for the rest of the year while avoiding triggers for this issue?

Please consider what your threshold for dealing with various issues might be and evaluate whether you have a drama queen type or suffer for the rest of the year resentfully type of au pair. If it is something as simple as the laundry detergent, that’s great and you can move forward. But what if she’s convinced it’s the chlorine in the water and how much are you willing to do to fix it?

kat August 6, 2017 at 1:16 pm

dont know what are doctors in the us like, but with skin problems like this, doctors arent always the best place to have this dealt with. its often more of a holistic issue if thats the right word.

Mimi August 2, 2017 at 11:41 am

There are a couple of likely culprits; stress, detergents, pets, and water. WestMom’s suggestion for changing laundry detergents is good. If you’re in a larger city, it’s very likely that the water treatments could also be causing this. Chlorine is a big culprit, but water softeners can also cause skin irritation to some who are not used to it and folks usually adjust like German Hostmom said. We have well water with a salt filtration system (because of hard minerals) and we have our water tested regularly but all APs would have a period where their skin would break out a little because they were used to water that dried their skin out a bit more at home.

Another thing to consider is that Mexico is a “bottled water country.” Mexicans consume something like 12% of the world supply because of mistrust of the water delivery systems and historic issues. This could be why she thinks it is your water causing the issue which might just be a manifestation (or exacerbation) of this belief/stress/etc.

If you can’t get to the bottom of the issue, then like DCmom says, you need to think about her attitude surrounding the issue and determine what your threshold is for dealing with it. Our AP #6 was from Colombia and felt our well water wasn’t safe to drink and insisted that we buy her bottled water for drinking, so we took her to the spring water bottling company two blocks away and showed her the aquifer map that shows we drink the same water that they sell. When we declined to buy bottled water, she insisted on buying it herself and was resentful about it. Her preferred brand was one that came from a local water supply in lower New York state. We ended up rematching over safety issues and she chose to go home, but the way she handled the situation was an early indicator of the problems we were going to have later.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 2, 2017 at 9:29 pm

It could be prickly heat. It could be anything. If you have a CVS Minute Clinic near you, that’s probably the best (for the lousy AP health insurance) place to start. As someone who suffers from eczema, stress is definitely a trigger, as are the change in seasons. (And yes, if she’s used to soft water and you have hard – and she’s not moisturizing – it could be a problem.) I can’t even change brands of soap! (I recall one anti-acne variety that gave me a full allergic reaction that looked like acne!) If your AC is on full bore, then it could be dryness in the air, and a little skin lotion could solve the problem.

Don’t jettison her just yet. There’s a lot of stress in the first month, and some of our most “certain” APs ended up being favorites.

The point is to ask her, “I’d like to help you solve this problem. Are you interested in seeing a medical specialist?”

My advice, give her the auntie (not the mom) treatment. Listen. Offer advice. Tell her about the time you had to adjust to the stress of living in a new place (if you have). Sometimes, it’s reassuring enough to be heard and know someone cares.

HM August 3, 2017 at 8:25 am

My current au pair told me her skin was itchy because of “the water” too. However it was also in the middle of winter when the air is dryer here and I haven’t heard anything about it since. I think this is one of those rumors that gets passed around by au pairs. Having said that I have had a family member experience a rash from being in a pool before (non-chlorinated). Has she been swimming lately? Personally I would take her to the doctor and see what the diagnosis is. Without knowing your au pair it is hard to say if this is a sign of “high maintenance” or not but I think getting the facts would help sort out the truth. If it is a water issue then it sounds like there will be some decisions to make.

GER-BRITHMinGER August 4, 2017 at 10:13 am

I would second DCmom on this one and would be in fear of this being an indicator for some drama. We ended early with one au-pair for these so-called “health” reasons: it started with the water (external and internal), went on with bread (she insisted that it was light brown bread giving her ostipation and not the tons chocolate cream and the hanging around in the house and in bed), salad giving headaches, red meat making her suffocate, wind causing anxiety. The rumour about water definitely goes around amongst au-pairs. However, I feel that it will set things off with those who are experiencing a culture shock or having major adjustment issues. It is pretty early for her to be experiencing it but it is possible. Whether someone is willing and able to overcome a culture shock depends on so many things. My suggestion would be to try the easy culprit and change detergent. If there is no improvement you may want to have a conversation hinting at the possibility of (a beginning)culture shock. After all it is a major source of stress and could be the cause. In my household a contact allergy to water wouldn’t fly. “The pool!”, is the answer our au-pair has been getting everyday when suggesting activities.

txmom August 4, 2017 at 11:36 am

I have extremely sensitive skin, and so do my kids. We are pretty allergic to anything scented (even “natural” essential oils). I have broken out in rashes from head to toe from detergents. Give her some zyrtec and have her rewash everything with a free & clear detergent (we like the Kirkland brand from Costco, but there are many good ones). Don’t go with baby detergents…that’s a marketing ploy, as many of them are scented. In fact, I used to get a rash from holding the baby I nannied for in college because of her clothes. Once her mom changed detergents, it stopped.

NJ Mom August 6, 2017 at 8:39 pm

I second (and third) the other suggestions to find the culprit of the rashes.

The only thing I would add is sticking with a non-drowsy allergy medicine (like claritin, zyrtec, etc) as benedryl may have unintended side effects. If the claritin/zyrtec doesn’t clear it up while being taken daily, add in zantac as well. The combination of the 2 should clear up an allergic skin reaction (first hand experience and instructed by my allergist for hives). Now if there are any more threatening allergy symptoms… break out the benedryl.

American Host Mom in Europe August 9, 2017 at 6:06 am

Not sure this is the case given where the rash is, but I’ve definitely had an au pair who had a reaction to our dish soap. Interestingly, because I buy the sensitive one and it doesn’t bother me (while others do), but it made my poor 21-year old au pair’s hands turn red, dry, itchy, and look like an 80-year old’s hands! We tried a few other soaps (sadly, there isn’t a great selection here, and some were fine for her hands but didn’t actually get the dishes clean!), and I bought her dish gloves to use. For a while we had two soap dispensers out, one that didn’t bother her and one that didn’t bother me. So between these, her hands got better, while the dishes stayed clean.

E Ward August 26, 2017 at 7:10 pm

I third the laundry soap suggestion. Also, dry skin from A/C or heating can cause skin problems to flare up, so she should try some sensitive-skin moisturizer. That said, both my brother and I are allergic to an additive that is commonly used in city water supplies. It causes a red itchy rash on me and it causes his skin to begin peeling. Yes, this is real. The additive is more commonly used during warm months to keep the water clean while it travels through the city water pipes, so my skin problems improve in winter.

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