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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Let a Little Cosmetic Elegance into Your Life

Does your child have itchy, dry skin in the winter? Santa Rosa dermatologist Dr. Jeffrey Sugarman is here to help.

Family Life: What kind of tips do you have for taking care of kids’ skin during winter, when indoor heat may dry it out?

Dr. Jeffrey Sugarman: One tip is to turn down the thermostat a little bit. If the temperature is 68°F–72°F, it’s going to be better for your skin than if it is blasting hot. You could also invest in a humidifier, which will help add moisture to the air inside your house. You don’t want to invest in 20 humidifiers so you might just run a humidifier where you spend the most time, like the bedroom. You want to moisturize really frequently. I moisturize my hands every time I wash them to keep them happy, especially during the winter. I think a lot of people forget to moisturize their lips. Using a fragrance-free lip moisturizer is very helpful.

FL: And all of these suggestions apply to children, correct?

JS: Yes, absolutely. Children have a higher body surface-to-volume ratio so…their skin may dry out and be even more susceptible to these things we are talking about. You can take a shorter shower or a not-so-hot shower. A [too-hot shower] definitely dries out your skin. If your skin is beet red when you get out of the shower, the temperature is definitely too hot. I really like to use cleansers in the shower or bath that are fragrance-free. Even cleansers that say “unscented” still can contain fragrance. So if you have someone who has sensitive skin, you really want to make sure [the product] says “fragrance free.”

FL: What can be done for eczema during the winter?

JS: Eczema definitely gets worse during the wintertime for a pretty large cohort of children. So parents really need to make sure children are moisturized when they get out of the bath or shower. Within a minute or two [of getting out], blot the skin damp, and then put on a good moisturizer. And your choice of moisturizers is really going to depend on the age of the child and also how dry their skin is. So if you have an infant or toddler with really dry skin you are going to want to use a really thick, greasy moisturizer—Aquaphor or Vaseline—and if you’ve got an older child with not-so-dry skin you would want to recommend something more cosmetically elegant like Cetaphil lotion. There are a lot of really good products out there. Again you want to look for fragrance-free, and you want to find something that your children will like because if they don’t want to put it on, that’s really going to decrease compliance. It’s got to feel good and make them feel good.

FL: Would you explain the phrase “cosmetically elegant”?

JS: That means something that is really spreadable and it works its way into the skin easily and doesn’t leave your skin feeling really greasy. I have some people that say, “Can I use coconut oil or olive oil on my children?” Sure, they work but they’re messy, just like putting Vasoline on your skin is really messy. And for the little kids who can’t complain, and who really need it, that’s ok. But if you have a 13-year-old, there is just no way they are going to do that right before they go to school.

FL: From ointments to lotions to prescription topic creams, what are the best products to use?

JS: In general, lotions are the least moisturizing and the most drying; creams are in the middle; and ointments are the most hydrating.

FL: Can you discuss teens with acne?

JS: I have teenagers who come into my office all the time who are putting moisturizers on their acne-prone faces. They have oily skin and don’t need a moisturizer; they have a natural moisturizer. [But then] you’ve got a teen who has acne [and] sensitive skin. [During the winter,] you may counsel them to back off on the astringents and the toners because they stress the skin and dry it out even more. Teenagers who don’t have that problem, who have oily skin, can keep using the astringents and toners even in the wintertime. 

Dr. Jeffrey Sugarman practices at Redwood Family Dermatology in Santa Rosa. He is a past president of the Sonoma County Medical Association and the current president of the Society for Pediatric Dermatology.