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Ask the Dermatologist: Handling Kids’ Sensitive Skin

If you’ve ever wondered about that weird {rash, bump, dry patch} on your kid, you’re not alone. As parents, it can be very unnerving when our kid gets some sort of skin issue we’ve never seen or experienced! Luckily for us, our resident dermatologist Dr. Kara Shah is here to answer all our skin care questions. This month, we asked her about our kid’s sensitive skin:

My child has very sensitive skin. When he gets sick, he gets a rash. During the winter, he has dry patches. Certain shampoos/detergents irritate his skin. How can I help him?

Dry, sensitive skin in children is such a common concern! Some children and adults are genetically predisposed to dry skin; their skin doesn’t retain moisture as well and is more easily irritated by sweat, clothing, and bathing. In the winter, due to cooler temperatures and decreased humidity, dry skin often worsens and can lead to eczema: areas of skin that are inflamed and appear red, scaly, itchy, and oozy. Illness is another common trigger for eczema flares. Certain chemicals in skin care products can also exacerbate skin that is already dry and irritated.

How can you soothe dry, sensitive skin? Sensitive skin requires extra attention to skin care basics: avoid potential irritants, restore moisture, and treat inflammation.

Potential irritants include ingredients in skin care products; common irritants include various alcohols (e.g. benzyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol); fragrance; and other chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulfate. Choose products that are free from common skin irritants; recommended hypoallergenic products include Vanicream™, Vaniply™ ointment and Vanicream™ Cleansing Bar. When using a new skin care product, it can be helpful to test the product on a small area of skin first, such as part of the forearm, to ensure that the new product is tolerated. Use of comfortable clothing can help to minimize irritation from sweating and friction; many children with sensitive skin or eczema are more comfortable in clothing made from natural fibers such as cotton or bamboo as opposed to synthetic fabrics. Use a laundry detergent that is free from fragrances and dyes; use of a liquid fabric softener can minimize irritation from rough clothing. Avoid use of a washcloth or loofah in the bath, as these are often too harsh on sensitive skin.

Keeping the skin hydrated is essential! Encourage your child to drink plenty of water. Use of a moisturizing cream such as Vanicream™, CeraVe™ cream, or Eucerin™ cream or a barrier ointment such as Vaniply™ ointment is preferred over use of a lotion. (Editor’s note: all of these products can be found at your local drug store, and many have store brand options!) Moisturizer should always be applied immediately after bathing and throughout the day as needed. Don’t over-bathe; a quick bath or shower for 5-10 minutes per day is usually enough. Bathing too frequently or for too long at a time will dry skin out more as over-bathing removes the skin’s natural moisturizers.

Finally, if despite use of gentle skin care products and application of moisturizers your child’s dry and/or sensitive skin worsens and you begin to see areas of eczema that are inflamed (red, itchy/uncomfortable, oozing or crusted), you will need to start additional treatment. Topical anti-inflammatory medications such as topical corticosteroids (e.g. hydrocortisone) are commonly used to treat signs of inflammation. If there are signs of infection such as pain, increasing redness, or drainage from affected areas, an infection may have developed; this requires medical attention. Check with your child’s healthcare provider if you have other questions or concerns.


Ask the DermatologistDr. Shah was previously the Director of Pediatric Dermatology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and prior to relocating to Cincinnati, she was the Clinical Director of Pediatric Dermatology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Motivated to provide more personalized and specialized dermatology services, she started Kenwood Dermatology in 2016, where she focuses on providing expert skin care to children, adolescents and young adults. While she enjoys caring for patients with a variety of skin concerns, her special interests include hemangioma and other birthmarks, melanocytic nevi (moles) and melanoma, psoriasis, acne, atopic dermatitis/eczema, hair and nail disorders, and genetic skin diseases.

Among her many achievements, she was recognized by Cincinnati Magazine as a Top Doctor in 2016.

Dr. Shah serves on the medical advisory boards for the Foundation for Ichthyosis and Related Skin Types and the National Psoriasis Foundation. She is also on the Scientific Advisory Council for Naevus Global and is a Councilor for the International Society for Pediatric Wound Care. Dr. Shah is board-certified in General Pediatrics, General Dermatology, and Pediatric Dermatology.

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