Dealing with dry skin in the winter

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Q: I have a 6-month-old baby, and I've recently been noticing red patches of dry, scaly skin on a lot of her body. I know that many people have trouble with dry skin in the winter, but I'm wondering if my daughter has something more severe.

A: Your daughter could just have dry skin, but what you're describing sounds like the symptoms of atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema.

Though the exact cause of eczema isn't known, there are two dominant theories. The first is that when the body is exposed to an allergen, the immune system overreacts in the form of red, scaly, itchy skin.

The second theory is that children and adults with eczema already have a poor skin barrier, which isn't as effective at protecting the body from allergens and irritants. Because the skin can't keep out irritants and keep in moisture, it becomes dry and itchy.

You should take your baby to her primary-care physician, who can accurately diagnose your daughter's condition. If it is eczema, the doctor can recommend appropriate treatment and may consider prescribing topical creams or ointments that can help reduce irritation and provide extra moisture.

Children and adults with eczema can find relief by bathing every day using a gentle, unscented soap to wash allergens and bacteria off the skin. Immediately after bathing, lock in moisture by applying a liberal amount of unscented, sensitive lotion. Ask your daughter's doctor what lotion is best for her.

Avoid scented things - soaps, lotions, detergents and coarse clothing materials like wool. Also be sure your daughter is getting plenty of fluids - skin should be adequately hydrated from the inside out, too.

-Dr. Joy Mosseris an attending dermatologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital.