Treating Your Kid’s Dry Skin in Winter

Does your child suffer from dry itchy skin when temps drop? Henry Ford Health System's Dr. Marla N. Jahnke offers advice on treatment.

With winter weather and cold temperatures comes dry air, and your child may develop chapped lips and new or worsening skin problems.

“Most children’s skin does just fine during our Michigan winters, but some simple modifications to your child’s skin care routine this time of year may minimize flare ups and calm dry skin as much as possible,” says Henry Ford Health System physician Marla N. Jahnke, M.D, who specializes in pediatric dermatology.

Dry skin or eczema?

Dr. Jahnke says that generalized dry skin or “winter itch” is very common during the colder months in Michigan. “If your child does not have problems with dry or itchy skin needing attention during the rest of the year, simply applying moisturizer immediately after a bath or shower in the winter can make a huge difference,” she explained. “Some kids with dry skin, however, have eczema. Eczema is a skin disease characterized by dry, itchy skin, which usually starts in childhood.”

Dr. Jahnke says that commonly affected areas are the neck and skin folds of the elbows and knees. Children with eczema sometimes need to seek medical help when moisturizers fail to help the itch.

Winter itch treatment

Chapped hands and chapped lips pose a particularly big problem for little ones during the winter months. “Dry hands become an especially difficult challenge,” Dr. Jahnke says. “Prevention is critical as healing chapped hands is an uphill battle. Keeping the hands protected from the cold with gloves or mittens whenever outdoors in cool weather is always a good idea.”

Dr. Jahnke adds that the regular use of a hand cream or ointment after every washing and as often as is needed is important.

“If the hands get really bad, a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser instead of soap can help,” she says. “Some parents find that they even need to send their own hygiene products to school if the soaps there are too drying and if there are no hand moisturizers available.”

Dr. Jahnke explains that dry, chapped lips are “common for many kids in the winter. The more chapped lips get, the more we tend to lick them,” she stated. “This constant water exposure perpetuates the cycle of dryness and it just gets continuously worse. Keeping the lips constantly lubricated will protect the skin barrier and minimize the problem.”

She prefers petroleum-based products to fight dry lips. You and your child can continue using hand sanitizers during the winter months “as long as there are no cracks in the skin” says Dr. Jahnke, who prefers lotion-based hand sanitizers.

Dr. Jahnke says it is important to be proactive to minimize winter skin problems. “Keep the water temperature down in the shower or bath, limit bathing to 10 minutes and moisturize the skin after every water exposure,” Dr. Jahnke says. “Using a humidifier can help, too. Most of all, prevention is key, so that our kids can enjoy the beauty of Michigan.”

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