infant dry skin patches

What to do about kids and dry skin


February 21, 2019

The pain, the itching — here’s help for that irritating dry winter skin.


This time of year can be especially harsh on skin. The humidity in the air is low both outside and inside your home, and this can cause skin to dry out.

You can take several steps to help alleviate the pain and itching caused by your child’s dry skin.

Bath time

If bathing is part of your child’s daily routine, that is fine, but consider only using soap on necessary parts daily and the rest of the body every other bath. Make sure the soap you are using at bath time is mild and unscented, as fragrances can be irritating to skin.

You can also bathe your child every other day. If you choose to do this, it can be helpful on the off days to mist your child with a little water before applying moisturizer, which he or she will probably find silly and fun.

During the winter, we recommend shortening bath time a bit and keeping the water lukewarm. The warmer the water or longer your child plays in it, the more the water will wash away the body’s natural oils. This loss of oils could be one cause of your child’s dry skin.

Once the bath has ended, pat your child dry, as rubbing can irritate the skin.


The most important time to apply moisturizer is within a couple of minutes of bath time (or misting time). Twice-a-day application may be necessary if your child has extremely dry skin.

In general, the thicker the moisturizer the better it works. The three major categories of moisturizers are ointments, creams and lotions.

Examples of ointments are Aquaphor, petroleum jelly or vegetable shortening. Yes, I said vegetable shortening: It works well and is very inexpensive.

Ointments can be used in small amounts since a little goes a long way. They will feel greasy so sometimes that can be an issue. Applying these at bedtime under pajamas can certainly help with extremely dry skin.

Creams are thick but not greasy so may be better tolerated. There are often cream or lotion options within the same brand, so go for the cream. Lotions contain alcohol to keep them thinner so they are not the best choice for very dry winter skin but may be fine for summer use.

Dry winter skin should respond to moisturizers and the changes discussed below/above. If it is not improving or becomes patches of red, dry skin then you should contact your pediatrician for evaluation. This could be eczema and require medicated cream or ointment. If your child’s skin is cracked, draining or painful, then this could mean infection and should also be evaluated by your pediatrician.

Rosy cheeks and lips that are exposed to the elements can also become chapped. You can keep lip balm or ointment on both.

Whatever you do, remember that your goal should be to trap and keep the moisture in your child’s skin.


This post was written by Tara Huss, a general pediatrician with the University Pediatrics practice at Vanderbilt Health at One Hundred Oaks. She enjoys running with friends and running after her three boys.