When temperatures drop, skin can take a beating. Fireside gatherings and snowy getaways are fun, however, dry, itchy and inflamed skin is not. The colder, drier climate, as well as central heating, can cause an onset of winter rashes particularly in young vulnerable skin and for children suffering from chronic skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
Words Amanda Webster
Our skin acts as a barrier between our bodies and the environment and is our first natural defense against disease. Maintenance of this skin barrier is essential for survival, especially in infants whose skin is particularly susceptible to infection.
The lipid matrix is the outmost layer of our skin and crucial for our skin’s barrier function. To protect this layer, we must moisturise! This is key for Eczema sufferers, a condition where the skin isn’t able to keep moisture in and irritants out and as a result, can become dry and inflamed.
The condition often flares in the colder months explains Dr. Wong of Sydney Skin Clinic, as “low humidity and sudden changes in weather can occur. Also, viral infections are more commonly seen in the colder months and can trigger an eczematous episode.”
“The most important thing to do is to moisturise the skin all over at least twice a day with a scent-free emollient,” says Dr. Wong.
Moisturize often, at least 3 times per day or with conditions like eczema up to 5 or 6 times a day. However, it is recommended to avoid lotions or anything with potential irritants. Dr. Wei Yen recommends products like “QV Intense with ceramides & QV Flare up Oil for bath time.”
Ceramides are lipids that help skin retain moisture they also help the skin protect against environmental aggressors like irritants and pollution.
Whilst hot showers should be kept short, Dr. Wong recommends “3 minutes in duration and the use of a soap-free, scent-free wash” and if done correctly, a bath can in fact be restorative. Additionally, the water temperature is key and should be kept at optimally, between 37-38 degrees Celsius.
Pat dry after bathing as air-drying skin will cause for some of the skin’s natural moisture to evaporate. Most importantly, remember to moisturize while still damp.
For Eczema flare-ups, Dr. Wong believes “topical steroids are essential in order to allow the skin barrier to fully heal. The side effects such as skin thinning will not occur if the topical steroids are used intensively three times a day to the eczematous patches.”
For children with eczema “drugs such are oral antibiotics are important to treat secondary skin infection.” Dr. Wong explains. “Sedating oral antihistamines are also useful to break the itch-scratch cycle at night and allow the child and family to get much-needed sleep.”
Ironically, over the winter months, heat rash can be another common skin ailment as babies are bundled up in too many layers. If you suspect your child is suffering from a heat rash, Dr. Yen explains that “babies have difficulty regulating their body temperature and can get dehydrated quickly. Make sure they are comfortable but not overheated and avoid synthetic clothing.”
Chapped skin is another winter skin complaint and is most common on faces and hands. According to Dr. Wong, “chapped, dry, painful and irritated lips also occur because of the windy weather conditions and a secondary lip-licking habit.”
Remember to moisturise after hand washing and wear gloves when possible.
Dr. Yen also recommends keeping nails short, “drink lots of water and stay away from high allergy foods. Eat oily fish like sardines and salmon for omega 3 fatty acids and good oils, like avocado for vitamin E.” He also recommends fish oil supplements if you can get your child to take them!
Dr. Wong suggests “avoiding rough fabrics such as woolen jumpers and scarves and contact with woolen blankets, grass, sand and carpet” as these will all irritate the skin and exacerbate rash conditions.
The winter months can be a nightmare for skin-care. However, through frequent moisturising and being aware of uncomfortable skin conditions, you and your children can maintain soft, healthy skin this winter!