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Six things you should know about wintertime skin care for you and your family

Winter means cold days, outdoor fun — and dry skin. Pediatric Dermatologist Christina Boull, MD, FAAD, has a few tips for parents to help their families practice healthy skin care this winter.
Winter means cold days, outdoor fun — and dry skin. Pediatric Dermatologist Christina Boull, MD, has a few tips for parents to help their families practice healthy skin when the temperatures drop.

This winter, grab your coats, scarves, gloves—and moisturizer.

Winter can be a great time to spend outdoors with family and friends, but the first cold snap of the year also marks the beginning of dry skin issues for many, including kids. We asked University of Minnesota Health Pediatric Dermatologist Christina Boull, MD, FAAD, to share some key steps parents can take to make sure they help protect their kids this winter.

“While each child’s skin is different, most can benefit from a few simple techniques to help manage and prevent dry winter skin,” Boull said. “Children with atopic dermatitis—also known as eczema—are especially prone to developing dry, scaly skin during Minnesota winters and may need more intensive treatment with prescription medications.”

Without further ado, here are six things you should know about winter skin care.

Warm—not hot—showers and baths are better for your skin.

On chilly winter days, nothing beats a steaming hot bath or shower, but you should try to resist the temptation. Hot water can actually dry out skin, Boull said. Instead, consider soaking in a lukewarm bath for five to 10 minutes to better hydrate your skin. Also, once you’ve finished bathing, be sure to pat your skin dry with a towel—especially if you or your child has sensitive skin.

Our board-certified dermatologists treat patients with skin conditions ranging from common rashes to complex inherited skin diseases. Learn more about our pediatric dermatology services.

Moisturizer is the first line of defense.

Regular use of a thick, moisturizing cream or ointment can turn the tide in the battle against dry skin, Boull said. “By applying a moisturizer regularly, especially right after bathing, you will be able to decrease skin dryness. Dry skin tends to become itchy skin, so it’s best to be proactive. We recommend using a moisturizing cream that comes in a jar, because lotions tend to be too thin to adequately hydrate the skin.”

Consider non-soap cleansers for sensitive skin.

Non-soap cleansers are a great option for people with sensitive skin. Soaps contain surfactants, which are what makes them bubble. But surfactants also strip the moisture from skin. “Non-soap cleansers are gentler on the skin. Even though they don’t produce foam, they still do a good job of removing dirt and bacteria,” Boull said. Bubble baths are especially drying, and so they should be avoided for children with sensitive skin.

Bleach Baths? Yes, bleach baths.

The idea of bathing in bleach may raise eyebrows. Surprisingly, regular household bleach is both anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. By adding a quarter cup of bleach to a full bathtub and bathing daily or every other day for at least five minutes, your child can reduce the bacterial load on their skin, healing minor skin infections and rashes. It’s the same concentration of bleach as is found in a swimming pool, so it’s very safe—even if your child gets water in the mouth or eyes,” Boull said.

Sunscreen rules still apply in the winter.

A bright, sunny day can be a blessing for your Vitamin D intake in cold December—but it can also be a curse for dry skin. If you’re hitting the slopes or spending a clear winter day hiking, don’t forget to apply sunscreen. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends SPF 30 or greater and people with sensitive skin should use a sunscreen containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that blocks the sun’s rays without being absorbed into the skin.

Oatmeal baths? Maybe. Maybe not.

The popularity of home remedies such as oatmeal, Epsom salt, or baking soda baths has increased in recent years. Boull doesn’t recommend the practices, but she doesn’t discourage them, either. “There is not high quality research that supports the use of these additives as being more effective than plain water. I would rather have families focus their efforts on treatments that we know can be helpful. If your child is having an eczema outbreak with redness and crusting, a diluted bleach bath would be much more effective, Boull said.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Nov. 30, 2016, and has been updated to ensure continued accuracy and comprehensiveness.