Sensitive skin in children - what can you do?

Sensitive skin in children -  what can you do?

Itchiness, redness and sore areas of skin are stressful - not only for the children affected. It is of course a major concern for parents, who often feel helpless when their child constantly needs to scratch or is in pain. As a mother or father, what can you do when your little one's skin has such a sensitive reaction?

It's important that you recognise that your child has sensitive skin at an early stage and are able to treat it quickly if needs be. Skin reactions are often due to an intolerance to a particular food or fabrics. In rare cases, sensitive skin can be a sign of a skin disease such as neurodermatitis. For this reason, caring for a baby's skin is a serious matter. However, the creams and lotions that are good for adult skin are not necessarily suitable for your child.

How is your child's skin structured?

After birth, a baby's skin has an almost neutral pH (around 6.5). It is not until the first few weeks of your child's life that the skin metabolism actually kicks in. Then the pH of the skin slowly falls to 5.5, thereby approaching the pH of adult skin.

Whilst the skin's acid mantle has not yet formed, your baby is not adequately protected from harmful microorganisms. This protective layer is not fully mature until your child has reached the age of around six years. However, even in the years that follow, the epidermis does not have an even thickness that can protect the skin below it from external influences. This is why a child's skin is more sensitive to UV rays or mechanical irritation.

These are the characteristics that make your baby's skin different to your's:

  • The structure of the skin is like an adult's – however, the individual layers are much thinner
  • Babies have a large skin surface, which is why their skin tends to become dry and cool
  • The epidermis has a higher water content
  • An infant's or child's skin produces very little sebum or sweat
  • The skin's acid mantle is prone to damage

How to recognise sensitive skin in your child

How to recognise sensitive skin in your child

Because of the special characteristics of children's skin, you can generally assume that the skin of your newborn will be more sensitive than that of an adult. However, sensitivity in a child's skin that requires treatment manifests as further symptoms.

If your child's skin has areas of redness, this may have a number of different causes. This could be an allergic reaction. This may be triggered by a certain food or foods that the child has eaten. However, the culprits could also be caused by the detergents and fabrics you use, such as rompers or the beloved cuddle blanket. You should also take a closer look at the shampoo and hygiene products that you use on your child. Many commercially available hygiene products for babies and children contain fragrances, for example: Perhaps this makes the shampoo smell tasty, like strawberries, but it causes skin irritation in your child.

Under normal circumstances, a child's skin should be soft. However, if it feels dry and rough and looks scaly or cracked, it is lacking moisture. This symptom is often related to itchiness. And for children, it is this very feeling that can make it intolerable, the longer it goes on.

What causes sensitive skin in children?

If your child's skin is hypersensitive or has allergic reactions to everyday influences, you should seek the opinion of a paediatrician or dermatologist. A predisposition to sensitive skin is often inherited. Even children who develop an allergy or neurodermatitis later in life are often prone to overreactions in early childhood.

You can determine whether your child is predisposed to sensitive skin if they have any of the following symptoms:

  • During the first few weeks of life, many babies develop cradle cap: The newborn has redness, small blisters and yellow crusty skin on the face or scalp. Dandruff tends to be soft and oily and does not cause itchiness.
  • White dermographism: Scratches on the skin have white rather than a reddish appearance.
  • Milk crust is often an early form of neurodermatitis. It is often confused with cradle cap, however, it occurs after the third month of life and causes dandruff and pruritus.

How should you cleanse your child's sensitive skin?

How should you cleanse your child's sensitive skin?

Children love jumping in puddles and stroking animals. Maybe you are concerned that this might not be good for your child or for their sensitive skin. Here it is important to retain a sense of proportion: To allow your child's skin to fully develop its own resistance to dirt and pathogens, you should not shield your little one from all external influences. It is only through regular contact with animals, dirt or dust that the skin's protective acid mantle can become strong. The risk of damage to the delicate skin barrier by excessive washing and use of products is significantly higher.

Naturally your child needs to wash if they get dirty after playing and running around. However, it may sound contradictory at first, but regular bathing dries out the skin. Hence you should limit bath time to no more than ten minutes and only use tepid water and pH neutral, mild bath additives. Even better if you can shower your child carefully, instead of sitting in the bathtub. Use a mild shower gel which is free from unnecessary additives such as:

  • Mineral oils or paraffins
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Silicones
  • Microplastics
  • Fragrance-free

These ingredients not only irritate your baby's skins, they can also cause allergies. Dry off your child after bathing by gently patting their skin with a hand towel. Never rub your child's skin with the towel! After a bath, wet skin can be even more prone to irritation.

Caring for sensitive skin in babies and children

Your child's skin loses moisture quickly, therefore it needs to be treated gently. The same principle applies here: Less is more! Massage cream into your child's skin once it has been dried off carefully after a bath or shower. After a visit to a swimming pool or a trip to the seaside, you should also apply a moisturising cream or lotion to your child's skin. As with bath and shower products, use products that are free from mineral oil-based ingredients or microplastics. Use care products regularly but sparingly. Apply only as much cream as the skin can absorb.

Normally sensitive baby skin does not need oily creams. You should use these mainly as a barrier to protect your child's skin from the cold. For daily use, a baby body lotion or a gentle skin lotion is enough to keep young skin soft and healthy.

Which household remedies are good for sensitive children's skin?

To provide your child with short-term relief from their discomfort, you can use products which you would find in practically any household.

One alternative is an ice pack, which you should wrap in a cloth and apply to the affected skin area to cool it down. The itchiness will soon subside.

"Mum, it's really itchy!" To stop your child from injuring themselves by continually scratching, you can give them an itching stick: Glue a piece of chamois leather onto a small wooden block. If the itchiness becomes unbearable, your child can scratch their fingers across the chamois. This tricks the brain into feeling welcome relief.

How to prevent skin irritation

How to prevent skin irritation

During early childhood, your baby's skin is constantly maturing and the slow development of all its protective functions is already under enough stress. For this reason, you should avoid daily activities that will only place a further burden on your baby's sensitive skin.

During the first year of life, do not expose your baby to direct sunlight. Make sure that your little one stays in a cool, shady spot and cover as much skin as possible with clothing, not forgetting to cover your baby's head. Apply sun protection with as high an SPF as possible and reapply to your child's skin frequently, around every two hours.

Skin can often be irritated by labels in clothing. Remove these labels, making sure there is no hard edge left over. Do not dress your child in woollen clothing, as this tends to cause scratching. Make sure that your child's clothes are not tight and are loose enough to allow them to move freely.

If your child does not appear to be allergic to fragrances, use the commercially available fabric softeners for baby clothing. These smooth out the fibres and reduce the amount of friction on the skin.  However, fabric softeners are now available which are free from allergens, eliminating the risk of skin irritation.

An overview of sensitive skin in children

  •  When it comes to cleansing and caring for a baby's skin, the motto "Less is more" always applies.
  • Avoid any influences that could irritate your child's skin, for example labels in clothing or clothes which are too tight.
  • Protect your little one from extreme heat and cold and from direct sunlight.
  • Avoid bathing your child too often or for too long. More tips and tricks for bathing your baby .
  • Use a light and gentle care product that replenishes the skin.
  • If you are ever unsure, contact your paediatrician or dermatologist.

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