How to soothe dry winter skin

White snow, bright sun and dry skin — it’s wintertime in Minnesota! 

This time of year, typically November through March, people of all ages struggle with skin issues. 

And for kids, winter can be a particularly uncomfortable time of year. In fact, roughly 20 percent of babies develop dry, sensitive skin, and older kids face special skin challenges as well. 

Fortunately there are some basic techniques parents can use to help keep kids more comfortable.

Lukewarm water: Although it’s cold out, it’s important for all ages to avoid taking hot, steamy baths. Hot water can actually dry out skin in the long run. Instead, bathe daily with lukewarm water for 5 to 10 minutes.

Non-soap cleansers: It sounds counterintuitive, but non-soap cleansers are a great option for people with sensitive skin. They have lower pH levels and are gentle on skin because they’re more likely to leave behind natural oils. (What is soap? Find out.) While we don’t endorse any specific products, a couple of examples include Cetaphil cleanser and Aquaphor hair and body wash.

Pat dry and moisturize: For kids with sensitive skin, even rubbing a towel on the skin can exacerbate their condition. After your child’s bath or shower, pat her dry, and then, within three to five minutes, apply a cream-based moisturizer. Cream-based moisturizers typically come in jars and are thicker than lotions, which often come in squeeze bottles. Examples include Cetaphil, CeraVe and Eucerin creams.

Eczema

One of the most common conditions we see in the dermatology clinic is called eczema (pictured above). It’s caused by an impaired skin barrier due to dysfunctional proteins in the skin.

By using these techniques, you can help repair your child’s skin barrier, which will then prevent the development of rashes and itching caused by eczema:

Bleach, it’s what’s for winter: Older kids in Minnesota face a unique set of skin issues stemming from a popular yet unassuming activity: Hockey!

Sweating under hockey gear can cause skin problems like eczema and related skin infections. 

Kids are most susceptible when protective pads make contact with the skin. 

Surprisingly, regular household bleach is both anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial.

One of the best preventions is taking a “pool bath” — ¼ cup bleach added to a full bathtub. 

Bathing daily or every other day for at least 5 minutes in a diluted bleach bath reduces the bacterial load on their skin, and can heal minor skin infections and rashes. 

Be sure to rinse off the bleach water after, and apply a cream-based moisturizer at least twice daily, too. Parents might also consider soaking or washing hockey pads in diluted bleach water as well, to prevent reinfection. 

If your child has persistent itchy rashes in these areas, talk with his or her doctor.

Sunscreen: Not just for snowbirds: You can’t avoid the sun in the winter — especially on the slopes. 

All ages should apply sunscreen to exposed skin on the face, neck and hands during outdoor activities. SPF 30 or greater is recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. 

Sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide block the sun’s rays without being absorbed into the skin, and are generally recommended for people with sensitive skin. 

Even if it’s cloudy, people can still receive 80 percent of the sun’s harmful rays, so it’s best to maintain proper protection — even during winter.


Dr. Kristen Hook is an assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. She practices at the University of Minnesota Health Pediatric Dermatology Clinic at the Masonic Children’s Hospital and subspecializes in pediatric dermatology. Learn more at dermatology.umn.edu.