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Winter Skincare & Sun Protection

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

Even though winter is upon us in full force, you want to make sure you don’t forget skin care and sun protection. Due to the drier air and the need to turn up the heat, it is important to protect your skin and keep it from drying.  In general, you need to use a gentle bath soap such as Vanicream or Cetaphil during this time of year.

It is not necessary to bath or shower every day in the winter months.  Try bathing your children every other day and see if this might help with some of the dry skin symptoms. Shorter baths and warm rather than hot water will also help prevent dry skin symptoms.  Right after the bath, while the skin is still damp get out a good moisturizer such as Cetaphil, Cerave, Vanicream or Aveeno (some of my favorites) and apply it generously. This method will help increase the absorption of the moisturizer.

The dry air and heat also dries other parts of our body including the nose and lips. To protect the lips make sure you use a lip balm that has sunscreen in it with at least SPF 15. Children often lick their lips and have excessive chapping and redness. This is called lip lickers dermatitis.  Mother’s laugh when I tell them this term, as it totally describes the problem.  It is best treated by bringing their “licking habit” to the child’s attention (if they are old enough to understand the problem). Use Chapstick, or Aquaphor, and apply it frequently so that the child is actually licking off the moisturizer rather than the skin.

Cover the skin around the lips too if they are licking that area. If it is really inflamed you can use an over the counter steroid to help calm down the redness. Unfortunately, this is a habit that takes a while to break but be consistent with the moisturizer.  I often go reapply the chapstick once a child has gone to bed and the licking has stopped.

For outdoor activities you will also need a chapstick or lip balm that contains a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 or greater.  For an older child get them their own stick so that they learn to reapply the lip protection throughout the day.

Nasal mucosa can also get dry and the skin inside the anterior nares (the part just inside the nostril) may become irritated.  As children often pick and rub at their noses the skin inside the nostril can crack and allow bacteria inside.  To help prevent infection you can buy Polysporin (an over the counter antibiotic cream). Take a little bit of the Polysporin on a q-tip and put it inside each nostril, just inside the tip.  After applying squeeze the nose together to help disperse the antibiotic inside the nose.  It is best to try and do this both morning and night.

Bloody noses are also more common in the winter and may be prevented by using a saline nose drop and some aquaphor or Vaseline inside the nose. I also like the brand Ayr Gel.

Sunscreen is not only for use in the summer.  Children who are outside in the snow require sun protection too. When travelling to areas with higher altitude and snow it is especially important to protect your children’s skin (and yours too).

The reflection of the sun off the snow only makes it more intense, and liberal use of sunscreen to sun exposed areas is necessary. Throw a stick of sunscreen in the parka and reapply sunscreen throughout the day. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen which has both UVA and UVB protection.  Neutrogena makes some excellent ones.

Lastly, when you tuck a child in at night a cool mist humidifier in their room may help prevent dry skin and lips. A little moisture added to the dry heat can make a big difference.

Try it and let me know if this works for your family!

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