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Protecting kids' skin during winter.

An unusually cold, harsh winter could be rough on everything from heating bills to car batteries. Imagine what it can do to a child's skin. Gary Williams, a pediatrician at University of Wisconsin Children's Hospital, cautions that "the combination of cold air outside and dry heat inside helps produce irritated, dry skin that can be a real annoyance in winter."

Normally, the natural oils in the skin help seal in water that keeps it supple. Therefore, anything that causes moisture to evaporate, such as harsh wind or excessive heat, will contribute to dryness. In addition, too much washing can aggravate the problem by removing the skin's natural oils.

It is not just exposure to the air that can wreak havoc with skin during the winter. Some youngsters are sensitive to certain fabrics. Wool, a great insulator against chill, can produce chronic skin irritation. For those allergic to animal dander, spending more time indoors around family pets can aggravate allergic reactions.

Fortunately for children, protecting their skin is relatively simple. Dressing properly is the first step. When indoors, to prevent sweating and water loss from skin surfaces, try to keep the room temperature as cool as the family finds comfortable. Humidifiers can help and they need not use hot water, which may burn a child if the unit is tipped over. Cool water moisturizes just as well.

Children who resist frequent bathing actually may be doing their skin a favor. Williams points out that many people mistakenly believe that more washing will help dry skin when just the opposite is true.

The type of soap also can make a difference. In general, highly alkaline bars or those with many perfumes or dyes should be avoided to prevent skin problems. If dry skin already has developed, "superfatted" soaps might help. These are formulated with moisturizers that actually deposit some oil on the skin. Oatmeal baths for younger children also can reduce skin irritation. Whatever the cleansing agent, a moisturizer should be applied immediately after washing to seal in moisture, "the greasier the better," Williams indicates.

If these conservative measures do not seem to be working, it is time to consult a physician. Chronically dry skin may be a sign of eczema, contact dermatitis, psoriasis, or even a thyroid disorder. An accompanying rash is a sign that further attention is needed.
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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