One minute we’re braving icy winds, the next we’re cranking up the central heating: winter’s extreme temperatures and moisture-sapping conditions are enough to play havoc with anyone’s skin. But they can be particularly damaging for a baby’s, which is extra delicate and prone to dryness.
So just as we might take extra precautions to look after our own skin in winter, it’s important we up the ante for our little ones, too.
Understanding how winter can affect a baby’s skin is a good place to start. From hot baths to itchy woollens, here are some of the most common seasonal irritants for young skin with advice on how to combat them.
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Adorable as babies look when they’re all bundled up in fleecy hooded onesies and padded winter coats, thick layers can cause babies to overheat and sweat, which can irritate the skin, exacerbate dryness and lead to uncomfortable heat rashes. Plenty of thin layers will keep your baby insulated and give you more control over their temperature. To ensure your baby doesn’t overheat put your hand inside their clothes to feel how warm they are. A general rule of thumb is that babies need one more layer of clothes than us.
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Winter gives you the perfect excuse to wrap your baby up in gorgeous, snuggly knitwear. But direct contact with wool can irritate a baby’s skin, according to The British Association of Dermatologists, so always put a cotton layer underneath. Opt for loose layers in natural fabrics, such as cotton – and wash their clothes with a gentle, non-biological detergent.
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When you’re out and about in the cold weather, keep your little one covered up with a hat and gloves. Covering the head will help to prevent too much heat loss while gloves will protect tiny fingers from cold winds and safeguard against dry, chapped skin. But wool can irritate the scalp and hands, too, so stick to cotton or cotton-lined hats and gloves, if possible. And always pack spares. Babies love to pull off accessories when you’re not looking so prams can be like the Bermuda Triangle for gloves, socks and hats.
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Contrary to what you might have heard, bathing your baby every day won’t dry out their skin – as long as you stick to a few simple rules. Water that’s too warm can be damaging so try to ensure it’s as close to room temperature as possible. Staying in the bath too long can also be dehydrating so keep bath-time short and sweet. Use an emollient in the water to safeguard against dryness. This helps to prevent water loss from the outer layers of the skin, provides a barrier to keep out irritants, and leaves skin soft and supple. And remember that your baby’s skin is fragile, so gently pat them dry with a warm, fluffy towel and avoid rubbing.
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After bath time, gently massage any dry areas of skin with emollient moisturiser. This replaces skin oils and forms a waterproof barrier on the surface of the skin preventing further water loss. It also moisturises and softens the skin underneath and helps prevent it from drying out.
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Moisture-robbing central heating can be very drying for a baby’s delicate skin. Place a humidifier in your baby’s room at night to help replenish lost moisture while they sleep. These can also help ease coughing and congestion when your baby has a cold. For safety reasons, always use a cool-mist model.
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Eczema is common among infants. In fact, atopic eczema, which occurs mainly where there’s a family history of eczema, asthma or hay fever, is thought to affect as many as one in five children. The symptoms of eczema are patches of red, dry and itchy skin on the face or behind the ears and in the creases of the neck, knees and elbows – and these can be exacerbated in winter when skin is more prone to dryness.
Eczema can be managed with treatment so if you are concerned your baby may have the condition, visit your GP. Emollient lotions can be applied to moisturise and soften the skin and help to reduce itching and scratching, while bathing in emollients every day can help to keep the skin supple and prevent sore patches becoming infected.