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How to Care for a Toddler’s Skin

Skin care should be a consideration even during toddlerhood and is a combination of good baths, moisturizing and sunscreen.

Parents are often obsessed with their baby’s skin. There’s much wonderment at its softness and much concern when it appears blemished or rashy. That obsession often drives obsessive care for baby skin, but as a kid hits their terrible twos a couple things happen: They start wearing clothes more often and become harder to catch. That can mellow dermatological fervor into casual interest and even more casual care. But a toddler’s skin needs attention, if for no other reason than the fact that they put it through the wringer every active toddler day. Parents can provide that care starting at bathtime.

“Bathing every day is fine, and will not dry out the skin,” explains pediatrician and board-certified dermatologist Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse. “On sweaty, dirty days, wash all over with soap. On clean days, when using the bath as part of a relaxing, bedtime ritual, just wash the stinky parts.”

Shainhouse notes often bathing is an important part of a daily ritual for kids, particularly at bedtime. However, even if kids are bathing daily, it doesn’t mean that the bath needs to include serious washing every time. Parents who follow their natural instincts, priority-wise, when it comes to washing generally do just fine.

Shainhouse notes that tub water should be warm rather than hot. She also recommends that parents avoid heavily scented or harsh products. A good rule for parents is to avoid “unscented” products, which may still have harsh chemicals, in favor of “fragrance-free,” which generally do not. Finally, putting bath playtime ahead of washing will help a kid avoid sitting in soapy water for a long time which can be irritating for kids with sensitive skin.

Toddler Skin Care

  • Daily warm baths are fine, but use fragrance-free soap on the stinky bits only on hot sweaty days and save the washing for the end of bathtime.
  • Moisturizing is important for the dry winter months and is best achieved with a cream applied 3 minutes after a bath.
  • Vaseline can be used as a moisture barrier for kids who still wet pull-ups at night.
  • Sunscreen should be applied all year round and not just reserved for a day at the beach.

But skin care continues after bath time too, with an idea of keeping skin moisturized. This isn’t such a big deal in the sweaty months, but as the weather turns colder and drier, keeping the skin from becoming dry and cracked is important. This is better accomplished through creams rather than lotions according to Shainhouse, because the latter is far more likely to evaporate. Again, it important to aim for fragrance-free products.

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“Moisturizers should be applied within the first 3 minutes after toweling off after the bath and before getting into pajamas, to help lock in the moisture from the bath,” Shainhouse explains. “If your child is not yet toilet trained, or always wets an overnight diaper or pull-up, consider applying a layer of Vaseline on their bottom to prevent skin irritation by reducing direct contact with acidic urine and feces.”

But skin care isn’t just an evening after-bath consideration. Taking care of a kids skin should also be practiced during the day with the application of sunscreen. Importantly, this task is for more than just days at the beach. The fact is that UV rays pass through clouds and reflect off water, snow and ice. In fact, sunscreen is so crucial that Shainhouse suggests that its application be considered part of the morning routine.

“For sensitive skin, look for products with physical sunscreen ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide,” Shainhouse says. “They may look a little more white, and be a little messier, but they are less likely to irritate the skin.”