I have a confession to make…as the freezing temperatures and snow make its way through Columbus; I am out walking by the river without a jacket. Somehow, I managed to escape by conveniently planning a trip down South. Among other benefits of this well-timed vacation, my hands are enjoying the break. I’m sure I’m not alone in dreading the dry skin ushered in by the winter. For many, this can be extremely uncomfortable. For children with eczema, it can be a nightmare. Here a few tips to help us all keep our children’s skin nice and moisturized this winter season.
“Bathe”? Yes – I did say “bathe”. I know you are thinking: “baths are bad for dry skin”. While this wives tale can be true if you take a bath and air-dry (doing so causes the water to evaporate and take with it some of the natural moisture in the skin), bathing can be very restorative for dry skin if done correctly. The best way is to pat your skin dry with a towel immediately after finishing the bath and then apply a moisturizer while the skin is damp.
Use a good moisturizer
The choice of moisturizer is very important. Lotions can be very irritating to the skin so I recommend avoiding anything that says “lotion”, even if it is marketed for dry skin. You also want to avoid anything with a scent or a color, as these can also irritate the skin. In the winter, I recommend using a thick emollient, such as “Aquaphor”. However, some children don’t like the feeling of such a thick ointment. Creams such as “Eucerin”, “Cetaphil” or “Vanicream” are also great. There are also products that contain “ceramides”, which can provide added moisture to the skin, such as “Cereve” or “Restoraderm”. Some people prefer to use “natural” products, such as Shea butter or Coconut oil. Many of these products will work, but be careful because the term “natural” can mean many different things. Some of these products contain many ingredients that can actually cause more irritation to the skin (look for a product with a very short ingredient list). They can also be needlessly expensive. Don’t equate cost with quality of a product. Generic brands work great. Even good ole’ petroleum jelly, although not technically a moisturizer, can do the trick. One last note – if you have any food allergies, specifically peanut or tree nut allergy, be careful about using a product that may contain nut oils.
OFTEN = Several times a day (up to 5 or 6 times). Yes, it is easier said then done, especially for kids who don’t like having creams or ointments put on. I do encourage you to find a system that works for your kids, especially if they suffer from dry or itchy skin.
Wear protective clothing
No matter how diligent you are with bathing and moisturizing, the cold, dry air can be very irritating to skin. Try to keep your kids’ hands and feet covered, especially when they will be outside for extended periods of time.
Use wet wraps
For areas that are especially prone to dryness, you can use a trick we often use for kids with stubborn eczema areas. Try putting a wet cotton wrap (use a sock, pajama or gauze), covered by a dry wrap, on the area for a few hours. Apply the moisturizer generously before placing the wrap for best results.
Although these techniques work year-round, they are especially important during the winter months (especially since we can’t get away to warmer weather year-round).
Irene Mikhail, MD is a member of the Section of Allergy and Immunology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She loves improving the quality of life and safety for children with allergies, asthma and eczema. She has a particular interest in treating children with food allergies and performing research to increase our understanding of the development and treatment of food allergies,
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