In the winter, dry, cold air — along with harsh wind and central heating — can cause your child’s skin to lose water and natural oils more quickly than normal. Winter weather also can trigger skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis to flare up or bring out winter dry skin, also known as winter rash. This can result in rough, red skin that can feel itchy, uncomfortable and become irritated or infected.
Fortunately, there are solutions that can help you and your family combat cold weather pitfalls. Simply put, dry skin occurs when the skin doesn’t retain enough moisture and dries out, resulting in roughness and cracking. The best, most effective way to manage this is to establish a consistent skin care routine that will seal as much moisture into the skin as possible.
Gentle Skin Care Practices
Soaking the skin is key to avoiding dryness. It is important to bathe your child daily or every-other-day. Bath time should be limited to 5 or 10 minutes. When bathing a newborn, experts recommend that parents use a soaking tub rather than a sponge bath, as this method is calming and helps to maintain infant body temperature. Warm — but not hot — water is advised, along with the use of mild, liquid, non-soap cleansers.
Whether your child has eczema, psoriasis or mild dry skin brought on by seasonal weather changes, moisturizing often will help lock water into the skin and keep it hydrated. Immediately after bathing or handwashing, pat your little one dry with a towel and apply moisturizer to damp skin. This forms a seal that will hold the water in. Try to apply moisturizer all over at least two times a day, and after handwashing.
A top tip for selecting the best skin care product for your child is to choose thicker moisturizers over thinner ones. Ointments like petroleum jelly and similar greasy products are typically more effective at sealing in moisture than white creams. If possible, parents are advised to avoid lotions altogether, as they are thin and often contain added preservatives and alcohols.
If your child has dry skin, they also may have chapped lips, which can be neglected — even by people who practice a regular skincare regime. This often shows up in children as a dry red ring around the mouth. Choose a petroleum jelly-based lip balm that can be applied easily, that your child likes, and that they will actually use. Keep it with you throughout the day so you can apply it as necessary. Try to avoid overly scented or fragranced wax-based lip balms, as the scents and flavorings make children even more prone to licking their lips — which will worsen the problem.
The Bottom Line
Dry, winter skin is usually not a serious health issue, although it can lead to complications in conditions like eczema and psoriasis if symptoms go untreated, and if it becomes irritated or infected.
If a consistent regimen falls short of preventing or managing your child’s dry skin, consider consulting with your pediatrician, who can advise additional treatments or refer you to a trusted pediatric dermatologist.
— By Dr. Sheilagh Maguiness, vice president of education and career development for the Society for Pediatric Dermatology and associate professor of dermatology and pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. She also is the director of the University of Minnesota Center for Pediatric Vascular Lesions, a Section on Dermatology Executive Committee member for the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a member of the Hemangioma Investigator Group.