Healthy Skin Habits for Your Family

Girl with itchy skin

Skin care is more than just anti-wrinkle and acne creams. When it comes to healthy skin, it’s never too soon to get kids on the right track. Pediatrician Nora Fahden, MD, with Stanford Medicine Children’s Health’s Bayside Medical Group in San Ramon, offers some tips for keeping skin healthy and what to do when there’s a problem. Nivedita More, MD, of Bayside Medical Group in Fremont, also discusses caring for your child’s skin in a podcast.


According to Dr. Fahden, it’s easy to take our skin for granted in the absence of obvious issues. “Our skin just kind of exists, but it’s a really important organ in the body,” she says. Not only is our skin the largest organ in the human body, but it has several big jobs to do: protecting our bodies from germs and the elements; regulating body temperature; and communicating sensations of cold, heat, and of course touch.

Everyday ways to keep skin healthy

With so much at stake, healthy skin is important for even the youngest among us. Dr. Fahden recommends starting with a few daily habits to help protect this vulnerable organ. The first and most important is to use SPF 30 or higher sunscreen every day to protect skin from damaging UV rays, even on cloudy or rainy days.

Next, she points out the value of regular bathing to promote skin health. “A nightly bath clears the allergens off the skin, clears the germs off the skin, and helps moisture soak back into the skin,” she explains. Not to mention the added benefit when it comes to getting kids ready for bed. “It actually will drop your core body temperature a few degrees once you get out, and that’s a trigger for sleep,” Dr. Fahden says.

However, she also notes that parents should avoid scented soaps or bubbles baths as much as possible. “The more that the soap bubbles and lathers and foams, the more it’s going to dry out the child’s skin,” she says. “You really want a soap that’s a little bit more boring and has a milky texture that doesn’t really foam up that much.”

Paying attention to product labeling is also key. “If your child has sensitive skin, you may think you can buy something that says ‘all-natural’ or ‘unscented,’ but what you really want to look for is ‘fragrance-free,’” she says. After a soothing bath, Dr. Fahden suggests using a gentle cream or ointment versus a water-based lotion or alcohol-based gel to help the skin stay moisturized.

Managing childhood skin conditions

Eczema. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is fairly common: “More than one in 10 kids will be affected by eczema.” For most kids, eczema will go away on its own around their first birthday. However, some children will have it for several years. While many things can cause rashes in early childhood, itching is the hallmark of the condition. “Eczema is really defined by itchiness. If it doesn’t itch, it’s not eczema,” Dr. Fahden says.

While there may be a link between eczema and some food allergies, Dr. Fahden recommends consulting with a pediatrician or an allergist before changing your child’s diet. “So many research studies over the years show that this really doesn’t stop the flares from happening for most kids,” she says. “Eliminating things from the diet can reduce calories [and] nutrients they need to grow, so we really don’t recommend routinely or blindly trying to just eliminate things from the diet.”

The first line of defense against eczema is creating a daily routine with a nightly bath to wash away allergens. Keep the water lukewarm, since hot water can dry out the skin and lead to a flare-up. Then, use a plain cream or ointment like petroleum jelly immediately after the bath.

If your child’s eczema gets worse or you have a concern, take photos of the affected area to share with your pediatrician. If needed, there are prescription creams and ointments or topical steroids that may be able to help if the inflammation is severe.

Hives. Hives, also called urticaria, are another form of rash that appears as red, possibly itchy, welts. According to Dr. Fahden, “Talking about hives is tricky, because they can either be part of something that’s serious and deadly—an anaphylactic reaction—or, in most cases, are totally harmless and benign.” Be alert for signs of a serious allergic reaction: You need to call 911 immediately if your child has raised, itchy hives and other symptoms like a swollen face, trouble breathing, and vomiting.

However, not all hives warrant a visit to the emergency room. “If your child has hives but they’re reading a book and perfectly happy, maybe a little bit itchy, then you really don’t need to worry at all. You can just call your pediatrician,” Dr. Fahden says. If your child is old enough, oral antihistamine medications like diphenhydramine or cetirizine along with a cool compress on the hives can reduce the itching.

There are many triggers for hives, including viruses, irritation from plants, even temperature changes; however, it’s often hard to pinpoint the exact cause, Dr. Fahden explains. Fortunately, most chronic urticaria cases clear up on their own within a year.

Warts. Warts are another condition that Dr. Fahden commonly sees in her practice. While they are not usually cause for concern, the virus that causes warts can spread on contact. To prevent this, she recommends keeping warts covered with a bandage and making sure the child doesn’t share things like nail clippers and washcloths. “Warts are cosmetically upsetting, but they are fairly harmless,” she says.

Over-the-counter treatments that contain salicylic acid can help remove a wart over time. “Patience is one of the main ingredients for treating a wart. It really takes weeks and not days for a wart to get better,” Dr. Fahden says.

When parents are in doubt about a rash or other skin condition, Dr. Fahden recommends taking photos of it to share with the pediatrician. “There’s just no such thing as a bad question,” she says. “Parents really shouldn’t hesitate to take some pictures and send them to us so that we can find out what’s going on.”


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