Dropping temperatures and dry air can wreak havoc on anyone's skin, but especially the delicate skin of an infant. Prevention is the best tactic to keep skin healthy.
In many areas of the country, winter weather can be hard on the skin. Cold, dry air can chap and dry skin—especially the delicate skin of infants.
More than a third of all children younger than age 2 years experience some type of eczema and another quarter face allergic skin diseases.1 Winter irritation can make these problems worse, but there are ways to protect infant skin, whether it’s particularly sensitive or not.
“One of the little tricks in children who have issues with ichthyosis or who have a history of eczema is to be careful about keeping the skin covered,” said Bernard Cohen. Cohen is a professor of pediatric dermatology the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and director of the Johns Hopkins University Pediatric Dermatology and Cutaneous Laser Center in Baltimore, Maryland.
Skin that is most exposed tends to get the worse of fall and winter irritation, he added. This can include the diaper area, but really applies to all areas of the skin.
Moisture is key, as studies show that regular moisturizing can help improve skin barrier function and reduce irritation. One 2017 study showed reduced diaper rash and other skin problems simply from using daily moisturizer and bathing infants every other day.2 Cohen said moisture is an important tool when it comes to preventive winter skin care.
“I do think it’s important to use moisturizers and barrier creams in the diaper area all the time,” Cohen noted, adding barrier cream should be considered for every diaper change in infants with existing skin problems. “In children who have very sensitive skin, barrier cream or ointment in the diaper area should be used as regular preventive care.”
Considering how skin is cleaned can play a role, too. A 2020 study revealed that diaper rash rates varied in cultures, with infants in China having lower prevalence than infant populations in the Unites States and Germany.3 How infants were cleaned played a role, according to the study, with caregivers in China performing deep cleaning with soap and water with bowel movements, but often skipping wipes for urine-only diaper changes. Caregivers in United States and Germany tended to use commercial wet wipes most regardless of the type of diaper change. Cohen said caregivers should consider simple, gentle wiping with mineral oil for infants with delicate skin or who are prone to diaper dermatitis.
1. Özcelik S, Kulac I, Yazici M, Ocal E. Distribution of childhood skin diseases according to age and gender, a single institution experience. Türk Pediatri Arşivi. 2018;53(2):105-112. doi:10.5152/turkpediatriars.2018.6431
2. Yonezawa K, Haruna M, Matsuzaki M, Shiraishi M, Kojima R. Effects of moisturizing skincare on skin barrier function and the prevention of skin problems in 3-month-old infants: a randomized controlled trial. J Dermatol. 2017;45(1):24-30. doi:10.1111/1346-8138.14080
3. Carr A, DeWitt T, Cork M, et al. Diaper dermatitis prevalence and severity: global perspective on the impact of caregiver behavior. Pediatr Dermatol. 2019;37(1):130-136. doi:10.1111/pde.14047