How to Help Your Child Develop a Skin Care Routine
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | June 2017 | Last updated: May 2023
When children are young, the skincare routine that is so important for the treatment and prevention of flares of atopic dermatitis (AD) falls to the parents and caregivers. However, as children grow older, the responsibility of the care of their skin can shift to them. In fact, teaching older children how to responsibly care for their skin, treat acute signs of eczema, and prevent future flares is important for their health and well-being.
While many children outgrow atopic dermatitis and experience remission, some children experience recurrences of atopic dermatitis into adulthood. Teaching older children with eczema healthy skincare habits now can help them reduce symptoms and learn how to manage their condition.
Bathing tips for eczema
Older children who bathe themselves should be aware that warm, not hot, water is best for eczema. Hot water can trigger itching and dry out the skin and should be avoided. Daily bathing is best to help hydrate the skin as well as remove any bacteria or other microorganisms that can cause infection. Soaking baths for 10-20 minutes are recommended to rehydrate the skin. Baths and showers should be kept short. Cleaning the skin should be done with a mild soap that is fragrance-free and with a neutral or low pH, or with a non-soap cleanser, as harsh soaps can trigger eczema.1-3
Children should be encouraged to use moisturizers regularly, as the use of moisturizers is one of the most important aspects of caring for skin with eczema, regardless of the severity of the disease. Moisturizers help repair the damaged skin barrier of skin affected by atopic dermatitis and help increase the hydration of the skin. Treating dry skin with moisturizers can also help control the intense itch caused by AD. Moisturizers should be applied often enough that dry skin is minimal. It is especially important to apply moisturizers immediately after bathing, when the skin is still damp. This helps seal the water into the skin.4
Avoid triggers and irritants
Irritants are substances that irritate the skin. Children may be aware of some substances that irritate their skin.
It’s also important for them to be aware of common irritants to avoid, such as:
- Wool clothing
- Man-made or synthetic fibers, such as rayon, acrylic, nylon, polyester, spandex, or modacrylic (often used in children’s sleepwear to be flame-resistant)
- Soaps or bubble bath, particularly those that change the skin’s natural pH
- Some laundry detergents
- Cleaning solutions, including dish soap, disinfectants, or surface cleaners
- Chemicals like chlorine, mineral oil, or solvents
- Dust or sand
- Cigarette smoke5-7
Avoiding irritants may involve wearing clothes from natural fibers, avoiding certain perfumes or cosmetics, and wearing rubber gloves when cleaning with detergents.8
Resisting the urge to itch
The itch associated with atopic dermatitis is the most prevalent and distressing symptom, and both the symptom of itching and the scratching it provokes significantly contribute to the burden of AD. Children with eczema should be advised to avoid the triggers for itch, including dry skin, hot baths or showers, sweat left on the skin, emotional stress, and irritants. Nails should be kept short to reduce further damage to areas of skin affected by eczema. There are also medications that can help reduce itching and inflammation.9
As children get to an older age, they may become responsible for applying their own medications. Parents can help encourage proper usage and remind children of the importance of using medications as directed to minimize flare-ups and severity of atopic dermatitis.