Protecting Baby's Skin in the Winter

Winter weather can be tough on tender skin. We'll show you how to care for your infant's birthday suit at the times when you can help most.

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    Before You Go Out

    It's good to get out of the house, but babies are especially sensitive to temperature changes, so make sure your child isn't too cold -- or too warm.


    Protect Against: Heat Rash

    It's not just a summer thing. If your baby's bundled up, he can become overheated. Itchy red bumps appear when tiny sweat glands get clogged.


    Skin Saver: Dress your baby in breathable layers, and remove one if he's hot. Use a 1 percent hydrocortisone preparation to help with the itchiness, suggests Sandra Marchese Johnson, MD, a dermatologist in Fort Smith, Arkansas. But the rash will go away on its own after a few days.

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    Protect Against: Chapped Lips

    Babies' lips are always wet thanks to drooling, lip-licking, and drippy noses, and that moisture can break down the protective top layer of skin. This leaves lips vulnerable to cold, windy air, says Dr. Johnson.


    Skin Saver: Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly or lip balm to create a barrier against the elements and to moisturize already-chapped lips.

  • Weatherproof Your Stroller
    Weatherproof Your Stroller
  • Protect Against: Frostnip

    This mild form of frostbite makes skin red and tender. "Exposed skin, fingers, and toes are particularly susceptible," says Parents advisor Jody Alpert Levine, MD, a pediatric dermatologist in New York City. "When your baby gets cold, it's a natural reaction for her body to send less blood to her extremities in order to keep her vital organs warm."


    Skin Saver: Dress your baby in mittens and a hat or hood, and don't stay out too long. Extend the cover on your stroller to block the wind. If your baby's skin looks red, give her a lukewarm bath. Call your doctor if her skin color isn't normal in a couple hours.

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    Protect Against: Rough, Red Cheeks

    Chapped skin, which gets ruddy, peely, and even cracked, usually strikes the face, bottom, or spots where skin rubs, like the folds at the wrists. "Chapped skin is basically dry skin that has become inflamed," says Peter Lio, MD, attending physician in dermatology at Children's Hospital Boston. Blame anything irritating: wind, friction from clothing, drool on the chin, a runny nose, or a wet diaper.


    Skin Saver: Spend as little time in the elements as possible, and bundle him up when you do go outside. Using a thick moisturizer such as Eucerin, Aquaphor, or petroleum jelly on your baby's cheeks (or other problem areas) will add to his natural barrier and help treat any skin that's already chapped.

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    Protect Against: Skin Cancer

    Don't forget to use sunscreen in the winter -- UV rays are still strong.


    Skin Saver: Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. In the first six months, use one that contains physical blockers like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

  • At Bathtime

    Take advantage of this perfect opportunity to pamper your child from head to toe and keep his skin baby-soft.


    Protect Against: Dry Skin

    Red, flaky skin can appear anywhere on your baby's body, especially on his face. It's particularly common during the winter because cold air doesn't carry as much moisture as warm air.


    Skin Saver: It's fine to bathe your baby every day; just don't use water that's too warm. "Avoid soap or shampoo that contains fragrance or alcohol," says Robert D. Greenberg, MD, a dermatologist in Vernon, Connecticut. Make sure you smooth a nonperfumed moisturizer such as Eucerin on his skin within two minutes of his bath.

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    Protect Against: Eczema

    Extremely dry, itchy skin tends to run in families. Babies with eczema have an insufficient barrier on their skin for keeping moisture in and irritants out. Like run-of-the-mill dry skin, eczema tends to flare up during the winter.


    Skin Saver: Exposing your baby's skin to water twice a day will help keep it hydrated. When you bathe her, use a nonsoap cleanser like Cetaphil only on her underarms, backside, groin, and feet, and use water to wash the rest of her body. (Again, avoid products that have color or fragrance.) Within two minutes of getting her out of the tub, spread on a moisturizing cream or an ointment like petroleum jelly or Aquaphor to seal in the water. At another point during the day, use warm water from the sink to blot her skin, and then immediately apply moisturizer, suggests Dr. Levine. If the eczema doesn't improve, talk to your pediatrician -- your baby may need a prescription anti-inflammatory cream.

  • Protect Against: Flaky Scalp

    Cradle cap is a very common condition that occurs when the oil glands on the scalp go into overdrive. Greasy yellowish scales can cling to the scalp, hairline, and the skin behind the ears.


    Skin Saver: Cradle cap is harmless and will go away on its own by the time your child is 6 to 8 months old. If it bothers you, there are a few things you can do to help remove the scales. "Try rubbing baby or olive oil into the scalp to loosen the flakes, then carefully brush them out before shampooing," suggests Parents advisor Jennifer Shu, MD, editor of The American Academy of Pediatrics' Baby & Child Health. You can use a product designed to remove the scales, like Gentle Naturals Cradle Cap Treatment, or even a mixture of antidandruff shampoo and water.

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    Protect Against: Diaper Rash

    Even if your baby is dressed in several layers, check her diaper frequently; the skin on her bottom is vulnerable to moisture, heat, and irritants.

    Your baby's bottom may get red and tender for the first time when he begins solid food because the change in his stool can be irritating to the skin down there. Other possible causes: wearing a wet or dirty diaper for too long, friction from tight-fitting diapers, and excessive heat and sweating.


    Skin Saver: Change soiled diapers as soon as you can, and let your baby go naked once in a while so his skin gets some air. Make sure his diapers aren't too tight, and don't be afraid to go up a size, even if the weight guidelines say otherwise, suggests Dr. Johnson. Avoid using baby powder (even the cornstarch kind), which can be dangerous for infants to inhale. Instead, use white diaper cream with zinc oxide or petroleum jelly to form a barrier that protects your baby's skin from friction and moisture.

  • Michael Kraus

    Protect Against: Yeast Infection

    Be on the lookout for a bright-red rash with a sharp border of red bumps or blisters. Yeast likes to grow in a damp, warm spot like the diaper area, but it can also thrive in skin folds, like those on the neck. Infants naturally have some yeast in their intestines, so it can wind up in their diaper with their poop. "A yeast infection can also occur after a baby or a nursing mother has been on antibiotics," says Dr. Greenberg.


    Skin Saver: If the irritation doesn't get better with the usual diaper-rash treatment, see your pediatrician or dermatologist, who can prescribe an antiyeast cream for your baby.


    Originally published in the January 2007 and February 2009 issues of Parents magazine.


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