’Tis the season to moisturize

Now that winter is here, more of my patients are complaining about eczema.

Children with eczema have dry, sensitive skin that’s prone to developing itchy rashes. This is because they have an abnormal skin barrier. The protein building blocks of the skin don’t form normally and the oil content of the skin is different. As a result, water easily evaporates from the skin, causing it to dry out. The skin also does not protect children as well from the outside world, so irritants and allergens in the environment around us are more likely to cause itching and swelling.

Since eczema isn’t curable, prevention is a key part of treatment. Children with eczema must use a thick moisturizer at least twice a day to replenish the skin barrier – the thicker, the better. Think of this as a layer of protective armor you’re putting on your child’s skin. Creams and ointments that are scooped from a jar are better than thin lotions that come from a pump bottle. Fragrance is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to irritating the skin or causing an allergy. All soaps, moisturizers and sometimes even laundry detergents should be gentle and fragrance-free. Do not confuse the term “unscented” with “fragrance-free.” Products that are labeled as “unscented” may actually contain extra chemicals to hide smells.

Despite your best efforts, sometimes your child will develop eczema rashes anyway. If your child has an itchy, pink rash, bring him or her to the pediatrician or pediatric dermatologist. A prescription topical steroid ointment may be needed to calm down the inflammation.

Most children improve with time, but some will continue to have eczema as adults. Almost all children will continue to have sensitive skin as adults and must be careful to protect their skin with moisturizers and avoid using harsh products.

~ Yvonne Chiu, MD, pediatric dermatologist, Dermatology Clinic, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin

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