Dry skin is a universal complaint. And people who live in dry climates or have a family history of dry skin have even more reason to complain.
The facts about eczema
Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema is often associated with dry skin; in fact, it’s the most common itchy skin condition in children. It usually begins when the child is an infant, but may begin during the toddler or early school-age years. Eczema – red, scaly patches of skin that are very itchy – appears most commonly in children with a family history of eczema or other allergic reactions, including asthma and hay fever. Babies most commonly get eczema on the face, legs and arms. In toddlers or older children, it commonly shows up in the folds of the knees and elbows. The itching may be quite severe and often disturbs the sleep of affected children. Itching also serves to continue the cycle, as scratching can lead to more itchy red areas of skin, and may also result in secondary infection with bacteria or viruses.
Treating dry skin and baby eczema
The most important treatment (and preventative measure) for dry skin and eczema is keeping the skin well moisturised. Bathe your child every day in lukewarm water for no longer than 10 minutes, and follow this by applying a thick moisturiser to the moist skin.
Good moisturisers include greasy ointments like petroleum jelly and thick creams. The most effective creams come in tubs; if you can pour it from a bottle, it is not going to be as effective. Bathing for long periods of time can dry the skin and make things worse. Children with eczema are also often treated with topical steroid ointments, which can be prescribed by a paediatrician or dermatologist. These ointments help to decrease the inflammation and itch, and work very well when used in conjunction with moisturisers.
Other helpful strategies
for dry skin and eczema include using a humidifier in the child’s bedroom, avoiding wool and synthetic fibres in clothing, and using fragrance-free detergents and soaps. Although currently there is no cure for eczema, new medications are always being researched for safety and effectiveness. What’s more, approximately 60 per cent of babies outgrow eczema by their third birthday, and 85 to 90 per cent by the time they are teenagers.
Several related dry skin conditions can appear in patients with eczema.
- Ichthyosis vulgaris
is a type of scaling in the shape of polygons, usually found on the lower legs. Think of what happens when a mud pond dries up and cracks.
- Keratosis pilaris
is a common condition characterised by rough skin bumps (similar to sandpaper) over the upper outer arms, the thighs, and, in infants, the cheeks. Both of these conditions tend to worsen in the winter and improve somewhat in the summer.
- Pityriasis alba
consists of white spots on the skin of the cheeks and is usually most prominent toward the end of summer because the affected areas tan less than the surrounding skin. White spots also may result when mild eczema in those areas heals, resulting in a temporary loss of pigment.
Treatment for all of these conditions consists primarily of moisturising effectively. Check with your child’s health provider for the best solution for your child. All of these conditions may improve as a child gets older, but at times they persist into adulthood.