Causes of dry skin

Many babies have dry, peeling skin immediately after birth, particularly if they’re born after 40 weeks. This is normal and gets better quickly.

Bathing too often and using soap can cause dry skin, or make skin worse if it’s already dry. This is because soap removes the skin’s natural oils and makes it harder for your child’s skin to keep moisture in.

Weather can also affect your child’s skin. Hot or cold weather with low humidity might make dry skin more likely.

Genetic diseases like eczema can cause very dry skin in childhood, along with rarer conditions like ichthyosis.

Symptoms of dry skin

Dry skin looks like flaky, rough patches on your child’s skin. Dry skin isn’t usually very itchy or red. Dry skin can come up anywhere and everywhere. Children mostly get it on their faces, arms (especially elbows) and legs (especially knees).

If your child’s skin is very dry, cracks might develop. These can be painful. Sometimes they might even bleed or get infected.

If dry skin becomes itchy or red, it’s likely that eczema has developed in the skin. Eczema usually comes up in patches in the elbow creases, behind the knees or on the face. It’s more likely to develop when the skin is dry.

When to see a doctor about dry skin

You should take your child to your GP if your child has:

  • dry skin that doesn’t get better with over-the-counter products
  • patches of dry skin that are red and itchy
  • patches of painful dry skin – these might be infected.

Your GP might send your child to see a dermatologist if the dryness doesn’t get better with normal treatment.

Treatment for dry skin

Keep bath times short, and keep the water warm but not hot. Your child doesn’t need a bath every day, especially in winter and low humidity times.

Avoid using soap, fragranced products, and bubble bath products in your child’s bath. Use plain water or a soap-free liquid wash instead.

You can add special water-dispersible bath oils to your child’s bath water. You can get these from any pharmacy. Be careful when you use them, because they can make the bath slippery. Avoid bath oils that have antiseptics in them, unless your child has a diagnosed infection.

It’s essential to use a fragrance-free, non-irritating moisturiser like Dermeze, emulsifying ointment or Vaseline. You could also try aqueous cream or sorbolene with 10% glycerine cream. Your child must use the moisturiser regularly, ideally twice a day or more. A good time is after your child’s bath while her skin is warm and damp.

You might need to try several different moisturisers before you find one that suits your child. The most important thing is to make sure that the moisturiser doesn’t sting your child. If it does, wipe it off gently. Ointments are often better and less likely to sting than creams because they have fewer added ingredients.

Dry skin can come and go, so don’t worry if it comes back. Try to work out what’s causing it and the times of year that it happens. This can help you prevent it.

Dry skin prevention

Your child doesn’t need daily baths, and he doesn’t need to use soap either. Avoiding too many baths as well as soap will help prevent dry skin. An older child can use a soap-free wash.

If your child is prone to dry skin or eczema, keep her bath times to no longer than five minutes.

Using moisturiser after your child’s bath will help to stop the skin from drying out.

If your child takes swimming lessons, moisturise before and after lessons.

Dress your child in loose cotton clothing if possible, or add a cotton layer under woollen or synthetic clothing.