Parched, flaky skin is bad enough when you face it as a grown-up during our Canadian harsh winters, but it’s especially frustrating when your kid suffers from it too. During my son’s first winter, as a baby, he developed chronic dry skin that still hasn’t entirely gone away (he’s now in Grade 1). In our home, his dry skin something we constantly work on to keep healthy.
I’ve tried nearly every product available, and in my experience I have found that diligent application and good habits have protected his skin more than the benefits of any particular cream.
There have been no miracle fixes—either in the natural aisles or conventional shelves. Just like parenting itself, it’s been a matter of staying consistent and keeping to routines. Here are some tips that have helped my family.
1. Add an oil to bathwater
Bath oils exist for a reason, and that’s because they really do help moisturize skin. There’s a huge range to choose from, whether you’re comfortable using conventional drugstore brands or you’re a stickler for natural and organic products. Some parents even use their own all-natural homemade concoctions featuring sunflower oil or almond oil as a base; recipes are easy to find on Pinterest or through an online search.
2. Moisturize damp, not dry, skin.
Don’t wait until your child is completely dry after bathtime to moisturize. The time to coat them head-to-toe is straight out of the bath or shower with just the droplets of water wiped away, according to my son’s pediatrician.
A lightweight unscented moisturizer is good for not-too-dry skin, where a thicker jelly or unscented un-medicated ointment will provide a good barrier for really dry skin. Some parents even use coconut oil. (Do a patch test with new creams and ointments before slathering them all over, I’ve made this mistake before and I’ll never forget my son yowling and scratching at the sting of a new product, and he is not even particularly sensitive-skinned.)
3. Moisturize more than once a day
Presumably your children wash their hands frequently, but a side effect of this good hygiene is dry hands. Remind them to apply lotion right after they dry their hands and be a good role model by doing it yourself too. If you can (frankly it’s not always convenient), apply moisturizer on the body twice a day to tackle tough cases of dry skin. Working on damp skin is always best so if you can give them a quick wipe with a warm washcloth before putting on moisturizer, all the better.
4. Shower off well after swimming
The warm chlorinated water in indoor swimming pools can wreak havoc on already dry skin. Spend some extra time showering off your little one, pat skin dry, and apply moisturizer before heading home from the pool.
5. Cover up the body parts you’re not applying cream to
This tip is more about keeping kids comfortable while the moisturizer goes on so that they don’t start to resist and protest, which will curtail your efforts and make you all miserable. Think about when you get a massage, the masseuse only uncovers the area she is working on so you don’t get a chill. Same for your kids: warm up cold cream in your hand for a moment and teach them to do the same, cover them with a towel and work on uncovered parts, moving the towel or robe around to cover skin you’re not applying cream to.
6. Coat cheeks, chin, and hands before kids go outside
Cheeks, chins, and hands get chapped quickly on blustery days. Use a thick barrier jelly or balm to cover these areas before they go out to ski, skate, or frolic in the snow. The plain lip balm in your purse will work on the face if you’re in a pinch.
7. Use a humidifier in dry rooms.
Use a humidifier in the bedroom to add much-needed moisture to a dry room—especially if you heat with forced air. Most paediatricians recommend cool-mist humidifiers for safety reasons (hot mist can burn). Mould is another consideration: If your home is prone to mould, a humidifer may not be right for you. Cleaning the humidifer regularly (every 3 days) is important for health, as is changing the water daily. If you know you can’t commit to regular cleaning, you may be better off without a humidifier. Using distilled or de-mineralized (ideal) or purified water will keep your humidifier and the air cleaner.
8. Develop a routine
Dry skin, in my experience, can’t be turned around in a matter of days. You need to stick to a routine and be thorough about applying topical creams daily. It helps if you simply incorporate it into your bedtime routine. Keep moisturizer by the sink to use after washing hands, and lotion or jelly by the door for applying before heading outdoors. Add a little oil to bathwater every night, then moisturize while your kiddo is still standing on the bathroom mat.
A note about choosing products:
I’ve found that pharmacists have a wealth of knowledge about a range of drugstore shelf products, whereas doctors tend to have favourite products. You can also search for specific products’ safety ratings via the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep cosmetics database. I’ve eliminated, added and experimented with skincare products through all of these methods, do what works for you and your family.
Helen Racanelli is a Help! We’ve Got Kids contributing writer. You can follow Helen on Twitter @helenrac.
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