How temperature changes affect your child's skin


Children have more delicate and thinner skin than adults, which can make them more sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. — Positive Parenting

The skin is the largest organ in the human body.

Compared to adults, children have more delicate, thinner skin.

They may face frequent problems such as skin irritation, rashes and dry skin.

The skin also serves several important functions, such as forming a barrier (e.g. against bacteria and viruses, and moisture loss), allows us to feel sensations (e.g. heat, cold, touch), and helps the body regulate temperature.

Hot, warm, cold

Whenever kids are exposed to the weather, their skin is also exposed to heat, humidity, sun and sudden temperature changes (e.g. from an air-conditioned room to hot weather outside).

In addition, Covid-19 prevention standard operating procedures still need to be adhered to, such as wearing face masks, which increases the humidity underneath it, and using hand sanitisers.

Sensitive skin cannot tolerate drastic changes in temperature, e.g. from hot and sweaty to cold and dry.

Heat can cause sweat and grime to accumulate in certain areas, e.g. the forehead, neck, the folds of elbows and knees).

It’s also not recommended to experience prolonged exposure to extremes of heat or cold.

These conditions may cause kids to encounter the following skin problems:

> Prolonged sun exposure

Without proper protection (e.g. sunscreen, UV-resistant clothing), skin irritation and/or sunburn can easily occur.

Even when in shade, one can be exposed to the sun via windows, the car windscreen, etc.

Quick tip: Apply sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 on exposed skin (e.g. neck, face, arms, legs) before going out.

Sunscreen comes off easily when rubbed, washed or when one sweats, so reapply again if necessary after more than two to four hours have passed.

For sunburns, use products containing antioxidants, vitamins A, C and E, and/or furfuryl palmitate.

ALSO READ: Wondering how much sunscreen to apply on your child?

> Use of face masks

Excessive humidity build-up from sweat or moisture from one’s breath may contribute to rashes on the skin area covered by face masks, as well as acne or pimples when face masks are used for a prolonged period – yes, even for children.

Quick tips: For rashes, clean and wash the affected skin area, then gently pat dry.

Allow the skin to “breathe” from time to time.

Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly to the affected areas (e.g. lips) before wearing a face mask.

Do note that if you put on too thick a layer, it may induce acne instead.

For mild acne outbreaks, treatment includes gentle, regular skin care, i.e. the use of topical retinoids and benzyl peroxide.

This may necessitate regular intervals of gentle washing.

> Use of hand sanitisers

Frequent use helps prevent the spread of Covid-19.

While the use of sanitisers containing at least 60% alcohol is recommended, this can dry out the skin.

Quick tip: Use an appropriate amount to sanitise, then apply moisturiser immediately afterwards to prevent the skin from becoming too dry.

> Too much cold air

Air-conditioning can make the hot weather more bearable, but it also makes the air drier.

Sitting in classrooms or houses with the air-conditioning turned on all day long can dry out the skin and make it itchy.

Quick tip: Cold air tends to be dry, so maintain the air-conditioner’s temperature between 24-26°C.

Stay hydrated by drinking at least six to eight glasses of water a day.

At home, use a humidifier in air-conditioned rooms to prevent the air from becoming too dry, or place a bowl of water in the room as an alternative.

Use moisturisers frequently to prevent dry skin, especially on overexposed areas (e.g. the lips, eyelids and limbs).

Caring for dry skin

When it comes to skincare for children, it is important to use appropriate skin-moisturising products after a shower/bath.

Avoid products that contain alkaline pH or known fragrance allergens as they may irritate or sensitise the sensitive skin.

Test any new products by applying a small quantity behind the ears (where the thinnest skin is located) and look out for any allergic reactions and/or signs of discomfort after five to seven days.

The type of moisturising products used also depend on an individual’s skin type and sensitivity, so you may need to test before settling on a suitable one.

The most preferred types of moisturisers are:

> Ointments

These have a “richer” and thicker texture as it has higher oil content.

Some children may dislike it because of the oily feeling, but it locks in moisture better.

> Lotions

These have higher water content and more liquid, but do not have the same oily feeling as ointments.

Thus, it may not lock in moisture as well as a cream-based moisturiser.

Other skin-friendly ingredients in moisturisers include colloidal oatmeal (fine powder oatmeal) and skincare products containing antioxidants, liquorice extract and prebiotics, which help to soothe itchiness and repair the skin microbiome.

Generally, moisturisers are best applied after a shower to retain moisture and before bedtime.

Stay alert

A child’s first reaction to itchiness is to scratch.

Preventing skin dryness can avert a lot of suffering from itchiness, irritation and constant scratching, which may result in broken skin and inflammation.

Protecting your child’s skin is something you will need to do 24/7, especially in Malaysia due to the hot and humid weather.

Don’t ignore any skin problems if they persist and check with your doctor for advice on what to do.

Dr Leong Kin Fon is a consultant paediatric dermatologist. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only, and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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