Dry Skin & Kids: What Can Help?

The following is a first post from a guest contributor, Dr Nathanael Goldman. He is a pediatrician at Beijing’s United Family Hospital and also runs his own website, kidschina.org.

During the winter many more children come to the consultation with skin complaints than during warmer months. Something in then happening during the winter, which may be the cold itself and air dryness.

The outside air humidity in Beijing these days is around 20%, which is very low and certainly too low for what is usually found comfortable, around 50%. This is caused by the intense cold which doesn’t allow much water vapor in suspension in the air.

Dry skin is thus very common, leading to discomfort, notably itch and further skin lesions. Children with a more sensitive skin can develop lesions not unlike eczema (dermatitis).

Doing the following may help, the principle being to keep the air where we live humid enough and our skin able to retain humidity:

  1. humidify the air at home:
    1. humidifiers can help, though I find that those spitting a nebulization in the air deliver far too coarse aerosol for the water to stay in suspension in the air. Others ventilate above a humid sponge, producing a probably better air humidification. Humidifiers use electricity round the clock to be effective and should be mainained clean regularly.
    2. Water plates, offering a large evaporation surface have my preference. They deliver water particles in they air that are close in size to water molecules, becoming integral part of the environment, entering freely the airways. It is cheap, silent and can offer a pretty space in the home if fishes and plants are added. To increase the evaporation surface, porous stones can be installed on the plate, which will then absorb the water from the plate and easily evaporate from the large fractal-like surface of the stone.
  2. Limiting bathing is often advised to children with sensitive and dry skin, which seems counter intuitive. It is not clear what in pure water may further damage the skin, but this seems helpful in many children.
  3. avoid using soap (I would say even the “dermatologically tested lotion for sensitive babies and without soap”), as it will further remove the protective lipid layers from the already damaged skin.
  4. add oil to the bath, like olive oil. I like olive oil because it is a natural compound, which is also beneficial when we eat it: it should be safe…
  5. many lotions and creams exist, based on the same principle of catching water on the skin with phospholipids (the basic component of cell membranes.) They should be used right after the bath on still moist skin. I still wonder whether using a basic olive oil is not just as good, if not better. It is certainly cheaper.

Use a hygrometer at home to check the humidity level and how effective your efforts are. Every time you open the window, you will see that the humidity level drops quickly… If outside is not too polluted, that can’t be too bad!

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