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Dry Skin

Basics of Pediatric Dermatology

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Updated January 07, 2008

You may have to simply try a few moisturizers to see which will work best on your child.

Even though there are many brands and types of moisturizers, none work best for every one, so you might as well take the labels off and simply try a few to see which will work best on your child. Aquaphor is a good place to start though.

Photo © Pali Rao

Dry skin (xerosis) can be a big problem for many infants and older children.

In addition to those children with eczema, whose dry skin gets red and itchy, some simply get dry arms, legs, hands, or a dry area around their mouth from time to time. Their skin may peel, feel itchy, and may be red and rough when it gets dry.

Children with dry skin can get particularly dried out when swimming, and playing and sweating in the heat of the summer.

The winter, because of cold air outside, can also be a problem for children who get dry skin. Dry air with low humidity inside when you have the heat on in the winter also adds to the problem of winter dry skin.

Preventing Dry Skin

Why do some children have dry skin? Many likely have some inherited form of dry skin that makes them more sensitive to certain things that can make their skin dry.

Others do things that makes their skin irritated, such as using harsh soaps, not using moisturizers often enough, or using alcohol-based moisturizers.

To help prevent your child from having problems with dry skin, it can often help to:

  • use a mild soap or cleanser when your child washes, such as Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, Dove Sensitive Skin Body Wash, Purpose Gentle Cleansing Wash, Dove Sensitive Skin Unscented Beauty Bar, or Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Bar.
  • apply moisturizers while your child's skin is still a little wet to help trap in some moisture, which usually means trying to apply the moisturizer within two or three minutes after your child washes.
  • choose a non-alcohol-based moisturizer, such as Aquaphor Baby Healing Ointment or Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream. In general, remember that ointments are usually better than creams, which are usually better than lotions, when it comes to moisturizing dry skin.
  • reapply moisturizers at least two or three times a day.
  • have kids shower after swimming and then quickly apply a moisturizer to their skin.
  • place a cool mist humidifier in your child's room during the winter, when the air in the house may be dry when you have a heater on. Keep in mind that raising the humidity level may help your child's dry skin, but it may make his allergies worse if he is allergic to dust mites or mold.
  • have your child wear gloves in the winter to protect his hands from the winter cold, and apply a moisturizer after he washes his hands. Avoiding alcohol-based hand sanitizers is also a good idea for kids with dry skin.
  • frequently apply a moisturizing lip balm on and around your child's lips, which are prone to get dry in the winter.

Treating Dry Skin

If your child's skin has already gotten dry, it can help to:

  • apply an over-the-counter (OTC) hydrocortisone cream to areas of your child's skin that are red or itchy.
  • if you have been using a lotion, switch to a cream or ointment. Remember that in general, the greasier the moisturizer, the better.
  • try a different moisturizer, such as Lac-Hydrin (available in both OTC and prescription strengths) or Eucerin Dry Skin Therapy Plus Intensive Repair Creme. These moisturizers contain lactic acid, which promotes hydration of the skin.
  • try a "speciality" moisturizer, which contain multiple ingredients and tend to be more expensive than more common brands, and which include:
    • Cutemol Emollient Cream
    • Mustela Dermo-Pediatrics, Stelatopia Moisturizing Cream
    • Vanicream Moisturizing Skin Cream
    • Burt´s Beeswax Lip Balm
  • consider using a nonsteroidal prescription cream or lotion, such as Hylira, Mimyx, or Atopiclair, instead of an OTC moisturizer.
  • consider using a wet-to-dry skin dressing, for example, by wetting your child's hands, applying a generous amount of moisturizer to them, and then covering them with wet cotton gloves, which you can leave on for a few hours or even overnight. You should also put some dry cotton or rubber gloves over the wet gloves to complete the wet-to-dry dressing. For other areas of your child's skin, you can simply apply a wet gauze over his moisturized skin and then apply another dry gauze over it for a few hours.

If your child's skin stays dry, especially if it is red or irritated, you should see your pediatrician.



Sources:

Habif: Clinical Dermatology, 4th ed. Dry Skin and Xerosis.

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