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Words with Webb: Cold weather = Sensitive Skin

by -

Adult baby hands

The last few weeks have brought several snowstorms and extremely cold weather. Hopefully you have been able to stay warm and safe in your home. 

Lately, I have seen several patients in my clinic concerned about their child’s skin. It seems that during this time of year, as the weather gets colder and the air gets drier, I see an increase in the number of patients concerned about rashes and patches of dry skin. I thought skin development would be a good topic to discuss this month in conjunction with some cold weather skin protection and safety tips.

One specific question I am often asked: “Is my child’s skin more sensitive than mine?”  

This is not a very straightforward question to answer because the skin is just…different. Your child’s skin goes through several changes from infancy to adulthood. After birth, the newborn skin is anatomically mature meaning that all five layers of skin are present.  

The difference between adult skin and infant skin

However, the skin does not function the same as it would in adulthood. Sweat and oil glands that help to protect the skin do not function immediately after birth. The defenses we have as adults to keep our skin cool and hydrated are not the same for infants. Infant and toddler skin is also in constant flux to allow for the rapid changes in growth and development of the child. Additionally, the surface area of skin in an infant compared to body size is greater than it is for older children and adults. 

Skin hydration

Since skin holds quite a bit of our body’s hydration, water can be more easily lost in infants and toddlers which leads to dry skin, irritation, and rashes. It is not until older childhood and after puberty when the child’s skin is not only anatomically mature, but also functionally mature. Until then, extra protection is needed to keep our younger children and infants safe, especially in the winter months.

Winter's impact on skin

It is important to remember that the winter months bring much drier air than the summer months. Cold winter air typically has a low humidity level. It is not only the cold air outside that we need to worry about, but also the air inside our homes. The furnaces in our homes pump out warm, dry air as well. 

That said, there are some simple tips that can help to keep your child’s skin protected during these last few weeks of winter.

  1.  Run a humidifier. This will put moisture back into the air so that skin does not dry out as quickly.
  2.  Limit bath/showers to a reasonable number during the week if possible- these actually dry out the skin, especially bubble baths. 
  3.  Pat dry after bathing rather than rubbing, and apply lotion while the skin is damp. Patting is less abrasive to the skin and, if you apply lotions to damp skin, that extra moisture will absorb into the skin.
  4.  Drink plenty of water. Especially for toddlers and older children, several cups of water daily are needed.
  5.  For extremely dry or chapped skin, use moisturizes 2-3 times per day.
  6.  When going outside in the winter air, bundle up to protect against the wind.
  7. Keep lip balm available and use as needed to protect dry lips. Those with SPF are always a good option.
  8. Use sunscreen as needed. It is still possible to have sun damage or sunburns in the cold winter months from both the sun rays and the reflected sun off the snow and ice (snow burn).

Hopefully these last few weeks of winter will fly by and spring will be here before we know it! These tips will help protect your infant or child’s skin and keep them healthy, happy, and safe heading into spring. 

As always, if you ever have additional questions or concerns reach out to your pediatrician. We are always here and happy to help keep your child healthy!