Asked by Maureen, Isanti, Minnesota
My daughter is 4 years old and has some dry patches on her skin. What is the best thing to do for children who have dry skin? Any suggestions for lotions or bathing?
Living Well Expert
Dr. Jennifer Shu
Children's Medical Group
Dry skin is a common problem in children, especially during the winter, when our bodies are exposed to dry air in the cold outdoors or heated indoor environments. It occurs when the skin lacks moisture and can be treated by returning moisture to the skin or preventing moisture from escaping the skin in the first place.
Maintain skin's moisture. To prevent dry skin, make sure children eat a healthy, well-balanced diet with plenty of unsweetened beverages such as milk and water. Try also to avoid prolonged exposure to sun, cold air (since cold air does not hold moisture as well as warm air) or harsh winds, which can scratch or irritate a child's delicate skin. Consider using moisturizing soaps or cleansers, and apply lotions, creams or ointments to keep the skin soft and hydrated.
For children who are prone to dry skin, the following practices may be helpful:
Limit baths or showers to 2 or 3 times a week. While frequent contact with water may seem like a good way to treat dry skin, too much washing and scrubbing may actually strip the skin of its naturally protective oils. Use warm rather than very hot water, limit bathing to 10 minutes or less, and gently pat the skin dry with a towel instead of rubbing vigorously.
Apply a thick moisturizer early and often. Thick ointments and creams may be a bit greasier than moisturizing lotions but tend to stay on the skin longer. Apply these within a few minutes after getting out of the tub to trap the water on the skin, and try to reapply frequently -- even before your child's skin appears dry, or as soon as you notice any dry patches.
Humidify your home. If your home is dry, such as with some heating systems, keeping the indoors at about 30 percent to 60 percent relative humidity can help moisturize the skin. Too high relative humidity may lead to mold growth, and lower relative humidity can cause dryness and itching of the eyes and nasal passages as well as the skin. As a point of reference, the Sahara Desert and Death Valley typically have a relative humidity of 20 to 25 percent, while a steam bath is around 100 percent.
See your doctor. If the skin is very red, cracked, peeling, bleeding or infected (for example, is swollen or has pus), your child may need special over-the-counter or prescription treatments. Sometimes, dry skin may be a sign of a condition that needs ongoing attention, such as eczema or psoriasis. Your child's doctor can help diagnose and treat such conditions or refer you to a dermatologist who specializes in children's skin if needed.
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