Winter can be a harsh time for our skin and even harsher for our babies. The baby’s skin has not fully developed in its first year, making babies vulnerable and unable to protect themselves fully against UV exposure and irritants. Here are five characteristics of baby skin and tips for baby skincare during winter.
#1 Thinner Baby Skin
The baby’s stratum corneum (outer layer of epidermis) was found to be 30% thinner and infant epidermis 20% thinner than in adults. This thinner skin, along with higher surface area to volume ratio makes the baby’s skin vulnerable to chemicals, irritants and allergens. During winter, there may be increased contact with chemicals (if you’re doing a lot of cleaning using anti-microbial products), increased contact with irritants/ allergens (from staying indoors for longer periods). If you’re getting your baby new winter clothes, be sure to choose soft fabric (avoid wool) and also wash the new clothes (and wash using a hypoallergenic detergent for a longer cycle to remove detergent residue).
#2 Increased Water Loss from Skin
Baby’s skin has higher water content but loses the water from their skin faster. This is partly due to the thinner stratum corneum, and therefore the dry winter air (both indoors and outdoors) can be particularly harsh for baby skin. It is important to place a humidifier in the baby’s room (set it at humidity in the 50s range) so that moisture will not be stripped form the skin.
#3 Underdeveloped Pigment Cells
Baby skin has less pigment cells, thinner skin and a higher surface area to body ratio. This makes the baby vulnerable to skin damage caused by UV exposure, which has been studied to affect babies even in their first year of life. The cool weather during winter may mislead us to think that the sun rays are not strong, but the UV exposure is still present and snow reflects UV rays as well. It is best not to venture outdoors under the direct sun (from 10.30am to 5pm) in the first few months of age. When exposed to sun, it is important to apply sun protection but given that the baby’s skin is thinner and vulnerable to chemical penetration, be sure that you’re getting a quality sunscreen (hypoallergenic, broad spectrum and without major irritants like perfume, preservatives, paraben, propylene glycol and dyes).
#4 Less Active Sweat Glands
Babies are born with sweat glands but they are not activated – the activation starts at the glands at the forehead, followed by those on the trunk, arms and leg. During winter, babies sweat as well as the clothing is thick and time indoors with heating can also trap sweat under the clothes. This leads to a pooling of sweat on the skin surface that leads to blockage of the sweat ducts, resulting in a condition known as miliaria. For babies with sensitive skin, the contact with sweat or the sweat residue may also trigger skin rash.
#5 Less Skin Lipids
There are two types of lipids, those from the sebaceous glands and coats the skin surface, and those found between the epidermal skin cells. Skin lipids perform and aid several functions, including skin hydration, protection against bacteria and fungi, maintenance of skin moisture and protection via increasing skin impermeability.
In babies, their total skin lipids are less compared to adults and higher in saturated fats. Given the lower amount of skin lipids, it is important to moisturize baby’s skin with a hypoallergenic moisturizer that contains lipids, ceramide or other ingredients that improve the skin’s natural moisturizing factors. This is especially important during winter when the air is dry and the low humidity (below 50) can potentially strip moisture from baby’s skin, leaving it dry and itchy.
It is also important not to over-wash baby skin as it would further reduce the skin lipids and weaken the skin barrier.
Winter and holidays is a special time for the family, and a baby during this season can be especially memorable. Be mindful of how the baby’s skin structure is different from an adult and take special care to moisturize, avoid chemicals, sun and layer clothes instead of wearing thick clothing all the time this winter
This article is contributed by Mei, also known as MarcieMom of EczemaBlues.com. Mei has co-authored the book Living with Eczema: Mom Asks, Doc Answers with her eczema child’s doctor Professor Hugo van Bever and illustrated a children book ‘A to Z Animals are not Scratching!’