How to Keep Your Baby's Skin Healthy in Winter

Cold weather can be hard on a baby's delicate skin. Learn how to protect your little one from rashes, dryness, and more all season long.

baby in snow
Photo: Robby Ryke/Getty Images

From the first snowfall to sledding in the backyard, there's a lot for a baby to enjoy during the winter. But, unfortunately, it can also be the toughest season for your child's tender skin. Cold, dry air can sap precious moisture. And if you're not careful, it's easy for young skin to go from supple to leathery and windburned.

"I was absolutely shocked by how much my son Nicholas's skin changed during his very first winter—not just on his face but elsewhere, too," says Karla Duke, a mother in Monroe, North Carolina. "His skin was so scaly and dry in places that it felt exactly like a lizard's."

Luckily, there's plenty you can do to protect your child from seasonal skin hazards. Read on for experts' simple, sensible advice for keeping your baby's skin healthy in cold weather.

Protect Against Temperature Changes

Winter poses a triple threat to your child's skin: "The combination of low humidity, cold temperatures, and wind can be particularly rough," says Paul Honig, M.D., an emeritus professor of pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Add in the temperature shifts your baby endures as you shuttle them between the chilly outdoors and the heated indoors, and it becomes especially important to give your baby's skin some extra TLC. Some basic steps can prevent many problems (or keep them from becoming severe).

Use moisturizer

A study published in 2014 found that applying daily moisturizer during the first 32 weeks of life reduced the risk of eczema in infants. So, don't skimp on the moisturizer, especially after bathtime. If any areas of your child's skin look or feel dry, apply a generous amount of baby moisturizing cream or a thick ointment such as petroleum jelly.

Go fragrance-free

Stick with fragrance-free products. Baby soaps and lotions free of scent are less likely to be irritating.

In addition, going fragrance-free may be better for your baby overall. In some people, fragrances cause headaches, dizziness, breathing difficulty, brain fog, and worsening allergy and asthma symptoms.

A 2017 study in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health measured breathing zone air concentrations of fragrances in baby products. Researchers found the widespread use of fragrances in products can result in multiple daily exposures in infants and toddlers.

Invest in a humidifier

"Using a humidifier, especially in your child's room, can minimize the drying effects of the season," says Anthony J. Mancini, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

Don't place the humidifier near or directly over your child for safety reasons. The AAP also recommends using a cool-mist humidifier over a warm-mist one.

Be clothes-conscious

Overbundling your child can make them sweat, leading to blocked glands and skin irritation. On the other hand, underdressing can dry out exposed skin or aggravate a pre-existing condition. So, dress your baby appropriately to fight the winter chill.

In colder weather, the AAP recommends dressing babies in layers. For example, try a onesie and a diaper covered by pajamas. If needed, add a sleep sack.

Soothe Common Baby Skin Woes

Your baby's skin is so soft and delicate that it's bound to experience some irritation this winter, no matter how cautious you are. However, when these common problems arise, there are ways to treat them. And remember, for any skin conditions, contact a health care provider if symptoms persist or if there's bleeding, excessive itching, oozing, or scabbing.

Create a skin barrier

Create a barrier to treat chapping. The area around your baby's mouth and chin can become chapped from the combination of cold and your baby's drool. The solution? "Create a barrier between the skin and saliva," suggests Dr. Mancini.

Applying a thick, greasy moisturizer or cream should do the trick. The skin around your child's nostrils can become irritated, too, especially if their nose is runny. So, dab on a bit of a petroleum-based product, such as Aquaphor.

Prevent windburn

Cover up to prevent windburn. Exposed skin, especially on your child's cheeks, bears the brunt of any stiff, dry wind. The result can be windburn—sensitive, dry, red patches that resemble sunburn.

So, cover your child up as best you can and use a thick lotion with SPF 15 or higher. (Sunburn is a risk even in the winter, partly because of how intensely snow reflects the sun.)

Treat eczema

Low humidity can aggravate this fairly common skin disease. Its main symptoms are itchy, red patches on the cheeks, scalp, hands, and feet.

If your baby has eczema, the American Academy of Dermatology Association advises the following to manage symptoms and reduce flare-ups:

  • Bathing in lukewarm water with fragrance-free soap
  • Applying moisturizer immediately after bathing and twice daily
  • Talking to a health care provider about using topical corticosteroids
  • Identifying and avoiding triggers

In addition, some fabrics like wool can irritate sensitive skin, so try to avoid these scratchy items. You can also ask a health care provider about trying a bleach bath, a standard treatment for more severe cases of eczema. But be sure to follow their guidance on dilution and frequency carefully.

Beware of prickly heat

Prickly heat isn't just a summertime problem. Dressing your child in too many layers can also lead to these tiny red bumps.

A cool compress or a tepid bath can relieve itching, as can keeping your child cool and letting their skin breathe. This is one time when applying some lotion won't help: "It will only make the rash worse because sweat glands are already blocked," Dr. Mancini cautions.

Limit outdoor time

Keep outdoor time short to prevent frostnip. This precursor to frostbite can strike when the skin is exposed to wind and cold temperatures for too long. The symptoms of frostnip include the affected areas—usually the cheeks, nose, fingers, and toes—becoming red and feeling numb or tingly but returning to their usual color soon after being warmed.

If you suspect your baby has frostnip, immediately take them out of the cold and try to warm their skin using your hands, warm towels, or warm (but not hot) water. If none of these techniques work, take them to the hospital immediately.

Adjust Your Bath Time Routine

When the wind is howling and the temperature is plummeting, it seems only natural to treat your baby to a long, warm bath. But watch out: Too much time in the tub can dry out their skin. The key is to keep your little one clean without overburdening their skin.

Limit baths

Bathing too frequently can dry out a baby's skin. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends cleaning your baby's diaper area thoroughly during each diaper change, then bathing just three times a week during their first year.

However, if your baby finds a daily bath soothing, you don't necessarily have to change your routine. "Just make sure the bath lasts no longer than 10 minutes and that the water is lukewarm, not hot," says Dr. Mancini.

Moisturize post-bath

After a bath, pat your infant dry, then apply a thick cream or lotion. "Moisturize within three minutes of the bath, while there are still water droplets on the skin, or as soon as is practical," Dr. Mancini says. "This will help seal in the moisture.

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