Essential winter skincare tips for children with Dr Ratnakar Shukla

Last Updated on February 26, 2024 by Partha Protim Choudhury

Skincare holds paramount significance in protecting the health and comfort of our children and winter introduces unique challenges that require our utmost attention. The cold, dry air of winter can be particularly harsh on the delicate skin of children, often leading to issues such as dryness, redness and increased sensitivity.

Dr Ratnakar Shukla is a highly skilled medical professional specializing in dermatology, cosmetology and hair transplant surgery. With over 13 years of experience in the field, Dr Shukla currently serves as a consultant at Derma Genix where he actively contributes to the advancements of dermatological care. Dr Shukla is also recognised for his valuable contribution to academia as the assistant editor of the Indian Journal of Skin Allergy and the Indian Journal of Paediatric Dermatology where he plays a substantial role in the development and dissemination of knowledge in the field of dermatology.

How does the cold winter weather impact the skin of children? Also, emphasise the differences between the skins of adults and children.

Dr Ratnakar Shukla: In cold weather, children’s skin is more sensitive than adults’ due to its less developed barrier. Consequently, they are more susceptible to harsh conditions, leading to common issues such as eczema, atopic dermatitis, and allergies. This is attributed to the underdeveloped barrier and its ability to be maintained, which is less advanced compared to the adult population.

Moreover, children have a higher body surface area compared to the body mass ratio of adults. Consequently, the body surface area per body mass ratio index is significantly higher in children, resulting in more pronounced heat loss. These factors contribute to increased heat loss, elevating the risk of dryness and irritation, especially since children often engage in outdoor activities and sports even in cold conditions.

Due to their increased exposure, children’s skin is more vulnerable to cold, windy, and harsh conditions. Greater exposure leads to more moisture evaporation, resulting in dryness and irritation. Therefore, dry skin is a prevalent issue in children, especially during winter. Without proper moisturization, children may experience chapped lips, exacerbated by their tendency to regularly lick them.

The risk of atopic dermatitis rises in sensitive children, and eczema flare-ups become common during the winter season. Exposure to extremely cold conditions may even lead to frostbite or frostnip in commonly exposed areas like ears, cheeks, and lips, causing redness, irritation, discolouration, and tissue changes. To safeguard sensitive areas, it is crucial to properly moisturize them. While these issues are common in both children and adults, children’s skin has a higher capacity to heal due to a larger body surface area and less developed barriers, making them more susceptible to these features.

What are the differences in children’s skincare routines between winter and summer? Please give some tips for parents to adopt during colder months.

Dr Ratnakar Shukla: Moisture may be lacking in cold or summer conditions, while it is present during the summer. Therefore, the moisturizers used in summer are mostly water-based, whereas richer and thicker moisturizers, especially those containing ceramides, are recommended for winter.

In cold conditions, children are often dressed in multiple layers of clothes, generating heat during activities, leading to sweating and potential dryness and irritation. It’s important to address certain factors. Firstly, exposed and sensitive areas need to be covered and protected. For example, hands should be in covers with gloves or mittens, feet with woollen or moisture-wicking socks, and ears with earmuffs or a hat.

Additionally, layered clothing is advisable. The first layer should be a breathable fabric, while the outer layer should consist of insulated clothes. If a child complains or experiences irritation, it is advisable to remove the outer layer of clothing. Striking a fine balance between clothing and protection is crucial. The child should feel warm and protected without experiencing discomfort.

Dr Ratnakar Shukla: During winter, moisturizers should contain humectants such as glycerine, hyaluronic acid, and sorbitol, which attract water and create moisture. Additionally, including emollients like cocoa butter, mango butter, jojoba oil, and coconut oil is essential as they seal in moisture, preventing it from evaporating. The third element is natural lipids, including ceramide and the Natural Moisturizing Factor (NMF). NMF, a natural moisturizing factor present between cells, needs replenishment through ceramide-based moisturizers to maintain skin elasticity and hydration.

Furthermore, it is advisable to use hypoallergenic and fragrance-free products for children to prevent potential allergic reactions, ensuring their skin remains unaffected even if it is sensitive or prone to allergies.

Is sun protection during the winter season too? How frequently should parents apply sunscreen to children’s skin in winter?

Dr Ratnakar Shukla: Sun exposure occurs in both summer and winter seasons. Despite the tendency for cloudy skies during winter, sunscreen application is essential. Between 9 AM and 4 PM, sun exposure is higher, containing UV lights. Prolonged exposure to UV lights can be harmful, potentially leading to skin tanning, pigmentation, and even skin cancer in individuals lacking long-term protection and care.

While some sun exposure is important, it should be sufficient, and sunscreen application is necessary. In winter, especially in places with snowfall, UV radiation gets reflected, intensifying its potential harm. Therefore, when visiting such areas with your children or residing there, sunscreen is a must. Keep in mind that sunscreen’s effectiveness lasts only two or three hours, requiring reapplication at least three to four times a day.

Select a broad-spectrum sunscreen covering UVA and UVB with an SPF of 30 and above to protect your skin and your children’s skin from the harmful effects of sun exposure.

How does diet impact children’s skin health, and which foods support skin hydration and protection?

Dr Ratnakar Shukla: Diet plays a crucial role in skin health, as the condition of your skin is dependent on the nutrition it receives. External treatments such as moisturizers are insufficient if your skin lacks essential nutrients. Therefore, maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet is vital, including foods rich in water to keep your body hydrated. Consume water-rich fruits and vegetables like cucumber, tomato, watermelon, and oranges, along with healthy fats such as omega-three fatty acids found in walnuts and almonds. Additionally, include vitamin C and E-rich fruits like citrus fruits, kiwi, berries, seeds, and nuts, as well as vitamin A-rich foods containing beta-carotene like legumes, seeds, papaya, and orange and yellow fruits. Following this dietary regimen contributes to maintaining healthy skin.

It is essential to avoid processed, canned, and sugary foods for optimal skin health. Complementing this with an external skincare routine is also necessary.

How can parents tailor winter skincare routines for a child’s unique skin needs and sensitivities?

Dr Ratnakar Shukla: Use gentle cleansers that are mild, fragrance-free, and free of sulphates and parabens, avoiding harsh chemicals. Opt for rich, creamy moisturizers. Take baths in lukewarm water for a limited time, as prolonged exposure can lead to moisture evaporation from the skin. Protect sensitive areas like ears, cheeks, and lips. Limit the use of electric appliances like heaters and blowers indoors, as extended use can cause excessive dryness. Lastly, if a child experiences skin troubles despite taking precautions, consult a board-certified dermatologist. Avoid following medical advice from unverified and unqualified online sources or otherwise.

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