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9 Ways to Care for Your Baby’s Skin in Winter

Protect sensitive skin, relieve cold-weather dryness, and more.

Medically reviewed in January 2021

Updated on September 28, 2021

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Winter is tough on anyone’s skin, but it’s especially so on the delicate skin of our little ones. Itchiness, dryness, and eczema are just a few common skin problems that can arrive along with chilly weather. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to keep babies’ skin soft and healthy, with help from Amy Kim, MD, a dermatologist and Mohs surgeon in Atlanta.

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Layer Up

It’s important to keep your baby warm, but not too warm. Heat and moisture aggravates soft skin. “Too many layers may lead to a case of prickly heat rash,” says Dr. Kim. Dress baby in one more layer of clothing than you’re wearing. When in doubt, put a hand under her clothing to test her body heat and make sure she’s not sweaty.

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Humidify the Air

“Air tends to get dry, with less than 5 percent humidity, when you heat your home,” says Kim. “This dryness leaches out the moisture from your skin.” Keeping the humidity level between 25 and 40 percent is ideal. If your child is prone to eczema flare-ups, using a humidifier is a must.

Should you choose a cold or warm humidifier? Both can be beneficial for the skin as well as breathing (especially little nasal passages and airways that can get easily clogged). But the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a cool humidifier, because a warm one can present a scalding hazard if a child were to tip it over.

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Moisturize! Moisturize! Moisturize!

Baby’s skin is so delicate that it needs extra TLC. “After a bath, slather on a fragrance-free moisturizing cream or ointment,” advises Kim. “Put on her PJs and it’s like your baby just had a mini spa hydrating treatment.”

Be sure to avoid fragrance in all baby products. “It’s one of the leading causes of contact allergies,” says Kim. Contact allergies come from products or irritants (such as soaps or plants) that touch the skin. If you want to use a scented product, “look for those with an essential oil such as lavender, rosemary, or sage,” says Kim. “Good moisturizers for baby can include jojoba oil, shea butter, and cocoa butter.”

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Don’t Overdo Bath Time

Many babies love splashing in the tub. But long, hot baths can dry your baby’s skin. Keep baths warm, but not hot. Limit them to five minutes and stick to an irritant- or tear-free hair and body cleanser.

If your baby’s skin becomes irritated, try alternatives to liquid soap, such as a hypoallergenic, unscented moisturizing bar, like Dove.

Another skin-hydrating trick? The “soak and seal” method. As soon as baby is out of the tub, pat their skin dry (don’t rub) and slather on a thick cream or ointment. Applying the cream immediately after drying helps seal in moisture.

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Nip Eczema in the Bud

Redness or discoloration of the skin could be a sign of eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis), particularly if it turns into scaly, itchy patches. In babies, eczema not only affects their cheeks but the outer parts of their arms, legs, and trunk as well. Some children with eczema only have symptoms in the winter months when the dryness and cold air can trigger a flare-up. “Babies are prone to eczema if they have any family history of asthma, hay fever, or eczema,” says Kim.

How can you ease symptoms? “Use a pH-balanced, irritant-free hair and body cleanser and a fragrance-free moisturizer,” says Kim. Look for products with the Seal of Acceptance from the National Eczema Association.

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Know When to Call the Doc

If your baby has pronounced redness or discoloration or an itchy rash, it can be hard to know when to call for reinforcements. "As a general rule of thumb, if your baby seems especially bothered by the condition due to itching, pain, irritability, or a fever, and what you're doing to ease symptoms doesn't improve it over two to three days, call your pediatrician or a dermatologist," advises Kim. Be sure to take your baby to a healthcare provider even sooner if the affected area of skin is warm, appears to be painful, looks swollen, or spreads over the course of 24 hours.

If your baby has eczema and the condition worsens, “see your doctor,” says Kim. “Your baby may benefit from a corticosteroid or non-steroid cream or an antihistamine to reduce itching.”

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Avoid Baby Blisters

Between drooling and runny noses, the area around the lips and chin can get very irritated. Protect this area by applying a balm such as white petrolatum ointment or Aquaphor. Kim advises repeating application several times throughout the day.

If your baby develops blisters or little ulcers on her lips or mouth, call your healthcare provider. If the sores seem to keep your baby from eating or drinking, you’ll definitely want to have them evaluated.

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Best Clothes for Fingers and Toes

In addition to warm gloves, fuzzy booties, and fleece hats to protect fingers and heads, consider using an additional protective attachment on your baby’s stroller to protect him from the elements, such as cold winter wind.

Another good rule of thumb? Check his hands and feet regularly to be sure they’re warm. Some winter accessories are cuter than they are functional. You may need to get a warmer hat and gloves. But if his head becomes sweaty, loosen up the ties.

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Don’t Skip the Sunscreen

The sun’s rays aren’t any less harmful in the winter. Infants and children are more susceptible than adults are to the damaging effects of UV rays at any time of the year. Kim recommends nonchemical sunscreens that use non-micronized zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredient. Some favorites with broad spectrum SPF 50 include Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen Lotion and Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Face Stick.

Some babies are sensitive to para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), so look for protection that is also PABA-free.

Sources:

HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics. Caring for Your Child’s Cold or Flu. Last Updated April 19, 2019.

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