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Children and Dry Skin

By Jason C. Bruce, M.D.

Dry Skin

Dry skin in ch​ildren is a common condition that can occur anywhere on the body. Dry or sensitive skin can be inherited, but it is most often caused by environmental or medical factors.

Low humidity, both inside and outside the home, enhances the drying effect on the skin during the winter months. Exposure to wind, cold water and drying soaps further increases dryness.

Preventing Dry Skin

When outside, ensure your child is wearing skin-protecting winter clothing, including gloves, a hat and scarf. Parents should also be cautious of scratchy clothing, such as wool, that can make the skin hot and itchy.

Keep in mind these additional tips for year-round dry skin prevention:

  • Increase water intake
  • Use a cool mist humidifier
  • Switch to mild soaps and detergents
  • Follow a balanced diet
  • Moderate water temperature in shower
  • Apply a non-alcohol-based moisturizer

Treating Dry Skin

Finding the trigger of your child’s dry skin will help with treatment. Sometimes certain foods or detergents can cause a dry, itchy skin reaction. Avoiding, eliminating or switching these items to a more mild or sensitive product can help.

If your child is battling dry skin, there are several options to ease the itch and discomfort at home. Boys Town Pediatrics recommends:

  • Applying an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream
  • Trying a different moisturizer
  • Switching from a moisturizing lotion to an ointment

Parents may also try a wet-to-dry skin dressing.

Step 1: Apply a generous amount of moisturizer to the affected area.
Step 2: Wet a piece of gauze and wring it out until damp. Wrap over the moisturized skin.
Step 3: Wrap a layer of dry gauze over the damp gauze.
Step 4: Allow to set for a few hours or overnight.

For severe dry skin flare ups, this technique can be used continuously for 24 to 72 hours (switching out the dressings routinely). If just being used nightly, dressings can be applied for five to 10 days.

When to See a Doctor about Dry Skin

If your child’s dry skin quickly worsens or is persistent for more than two weeks, contact your physician. In younger children a red, extremely itchy rash, called eczema, is common. Eczema can affect children as young as 2 to 6 months through adolescence. It is typically found in the creases of the skin including the elbow, wrists and knees. If you feel your child may have eczema, contact your physician.

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