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

Winter means cold days, outdoor fun — and dry skin. Pediatric Dermatologist Kristen Hook, MD, has a few tips for parents to help their families practice healthy skin care this winter.
University of Minnesota Health Pediatric Dermatologist Kristen Hook, MD, shared five winter skin care tips for families.

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 Kristen Hook, MD, to share some key steps parents can take to make sure they help protect their kids this winter.

“Each child’s skin is different and if your child is showing signs of dry skin, you should be a bit more proactive,” Hook said. “In Minnesota, we have cold, dry winters. Because of weather conditions, some kids may actually develop atopic dermatitis—or eczema—a skin condition that requires more medicated treatment.”

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

Lukewarm 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, Hook 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.

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, Hook said. “Your kids will find that moisturizer use will reduce their itching and dryness, and boost their general skin integrity,” Hook said. She recommends applying moisturizer three to five minutes after patting dry after a shower or bath. “If you allow your skin to dry out, then the moisturizer isn’t going to penetrate as well. We know moisturizers are more effective when applied to damp skin,” she said.

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. “Non-soap cleansers are called ‘Syndets’ and don’t contain the same surfactants that soaps do, so they don’t dry the skin out and disrupt skin barriers like regular soap cleansers do,” Hook said. Non-soap cleansers also have a lower pH level and are gentler on the skin, Hook added.

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 very diluted—less concentrated than what’s found in a swimming pool—and studies have found no adverse effects,” Hook 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 like oatmeal or baking soda baths has increased in recent years. Hook doesn’t recommend the practices, but she doesn’t discourage them, either. “There are lots of products available for families, but none of them have been shown in evidence-based trials to be more effective than just regular water baths,” she said. “If your kids love their oatmeal baths and are convinced that they help — I’m not going to make them stop. But it’s not something that I prescribe in the clinic.” If your child is having an eczema outbreak with redness and crusting, a dilute bleach bath would be much more effective, Hook said.