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Avoiding Dry Winter Skin in Babies and Toddlers

Avoiding Dry Winter Skin in Babies and Toddlers Avoiding Dry Winter Skin in Babies and Toddlers

By: Amy Lynn Stockhausen, MD, FAAP

Winter doesn't have to worsen your child's dry skin. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has tips to help ease those dry, itchy patches that sometimes come with dry winter weather.

In general, children have thinner, more delicate skin than adults do. Because of this, it may lose moisture more easily. Winter dryness can be especially tough for children with atopic dermatitis, a form of eczema.

But there are other factors that play into dry winter skin. With a few changes to your child's daily routine, dry skin can be managed during the winter and throughout the year.

Bath Time

Changing bath time routines can have some of the biggest impacts on improving dry, itchy skin:

Short baths are best. Baths are better than showers at helping to keep dry skin hydrated. But baths that are too long can have the opposite effect. The AAP suggests limiting bath time to less than 10 minutes.

Stay cool. Keep the water temperature lukewarm. Hot water may dry out the skin and also activates nerve endings, which become more sensitive, increasing the urge to scratch at the skin.

Avoid bubble baths & foamy, scented soaps. Not only do children tend to spend more time in the water with bubbles, the products often contain detergents that can strip skin of natural oils and make it more prone to dryness. In addition, fragrances and other chemicals in these products can irritate skin.

Dry off without drying out. When done bathing, pat dry with a soft cotton towel. Do not rub as it strips more oils from the skin surface and irritates sensitive skin and nerve endings as well. Immediately after bathing, apply a good moisturizer head-to-toe (see below).

Soaps & Moisturizers

When it comes to soap and moisturizers, not all are the same. Here are a few things to consider as you look at products for dry skin:

Traditional soap vs. non-soap. Non-soap cleansers are less drying and often recommended for sensitive and dry skin. Be sure whatever soap you use is fragrance-free, deodorant-free and hypoallergenic. Avoid using antibacterial soaps for general bathing, since they may irritate the skin.

Choose the right moisturizer. Moisturizing is an important part of soothing dry, winter skin. Moisturizers come in creams, lotions and ointments.

  • Ointments contain the most oils. They are very helpful for extremely dry, irritated areas. In addition, they do not contain preservatives and won't sting or burn the skin when applied.
  • Creams are also a good option for dry skin because they contain a lot of oils, which are good at sealing moisture into the skin.
  • Lotions are thinner and lighter than other moisturizers. They contain fewer oils but more water. Lotions may be helpful in warmer months or for those whose skin is not as dry.

Apply to damp skin. Since they seal in moisture, it's best to use moisturizers right after showering or bathing while skin is still damp and moist. Misting the skin with a little water before using a moisturizer is a good way to hydrate the skin when it's not bath time. Use a moisturizer at least twice a day, even when skin is not irritated. Consistent, daily use can lower the chance of rashes and itches developing.

Cover up. Putting on cotton-based clothing right after using a moisturizer can help protect the skin, keep it from rubbing off and help seal in moisture.

Beyond the skin – laundry, linens & humidifiers

After bathing, moisturizing and getting dressed, here are some other ways minor changes can make a big difference:

  • Laundry products. Consider using "free and clear" laundry detergents with no fragrances, dyes or perfumes. Look for products for sensitive skin, which are less likely to have irritants that trigger itching. Avoid using dryer sheets or fabric softeners. These may contain chemicals, fragrances and oils that can irritate sensitive skin.
  • Skin-friendly fabric. Consider cotton or bamboo sheets and pillowcases and they tend to be soft, breathe well and be less irritating to the skin. Consider cotton clothing as well. It can keep sweat from building up on the skin, which causes irritation. Synthetic fabrics can be rougher and tend to trap heat, which can cause sweating and irritation. Wash all new clothing before wearing to remove any finishing chemicals or dyes.
  • Climate control. Consider taking steps to add moisture to your environment. Forced-air heating in winter creates dry air and low humidity in the home. In turn, dry air creates dry skin. A whole house humidifier can help your overall environment remain around 40% humidity. If that's not an option, a console or cool-mist room humidifier can be another option to add moisture to the air.

When to call your pediatrician

If your child still has dry, irritated skin after making these changes, talk with your pediatrician. Additional steps that can be taken, including possible prescription medication, to ease the problem.

Additional Information on

About Dr. Stockhausen

Amy Lynn Stockhausen, MD, FAAP, is a Clinical Associate Professor of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. After 15 years practicing full-spectrum rural pediatric medicine and engaging in both clinical and administrative physician leadership, she recently re-entered academic medicine. Dr. Stockhausen is a member of the Wisconsin State Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2020)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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