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Scratching beneath the surface of dry skin

Parents have been itching to ask me questions about what to do for their babies and toddlers’ dry skin — especially with the cold winter season coming our way. Well, let me see if I can do more than scratch the surface on this topic.

Young children tend to have thinner and more delicate skin that does not trap moisture as well as adult skin, which makes their skin drier. If you expose young skin to cold, dry air, an infant or toddler’s skin is really going to look raw during the winter.

Fortunately, there are some things we can do to help manage the problem of dry skin in young children.

1. Consider giving your young child shorter baths, simply using warm water. Longer baths will erode the natural oils on the skin’s surface and make the skin even drier, redder and more inflamed once those oils are removed. Bubble baths and use of foamy scented soaps can also strip the skin of natural oils and make the dryness worse, not to mention fragrances and other chemicals in these products that may also irritate the skin.

2. When done bathing, pat the skin dry rather than rub it with a soft cotton towel so more oils stay on the skin surface, and apply a good moisturizer head-to-toe after the bath.

3. And speaking of moisturizers, make sure the moisturizer you choose is fragrance-free and hypoallergenic. Besides right after a bath, moisturizers should still be used two or three other times a day at this time of year, even if skin is not irritated to keep it from drying out.

4. Adding more moisture to the environment can also help. Forced-air heating dries air and lowers humidity, leading to drier skin. A home humidifier can help remedy this situation. Keeping your young children hydrated and having them wear gloves when outside is always a good idea to reduce the skin dryness.

If these tips don’t work, talk to your child’s health care professional, who may recommend other medications to reduce the inflammation surrounding your child’s dry skin.

Hopefully tips like these will do more than skin the surface when it comes to knowing more about how you can prevent or improve your young child’s dry skin.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.

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