At some point, almost every child has dry skin. Sometimes it appears in small patches behind the knees or in the creases of the elbows. It can involve larger areas of skin, too, such as the fronts of the thighs. And sometimes the skin all over the body gets dry.
The medical term for dry skin is eczema or atopic dermatitis. In a toddler, eczema classically appears in the folds of the knees and elbows. It can also show up as dry or red patches on the cheeks, behind the ears, or on the wrists or ankles. Some children develop skin-colored bumps on their thighs, the backs of their arms, or their bellies. Eczema can range in color from normal skin tone to bright red.
There are two main causes of dry skin: air and irritation. The skin is designed to be air-dried. When we sweat, the moisture dries off the skin and helps to lower our body temperature. But if the skin is wet and dried too frequently, or if it is not moisturized enough, eventually it will dry out. If you bathe your child every night, you may find that his skin gradually becomes rougher. In dry climates (and when dry indoor heating systems are running in the winter), the skin may lose its moisture quickly. People who wash their hands several times a day, such as doctors, have to continually moisturize their hands, or the skin will become so dry that it will crack.
The other source of dry skin is irritation. Perfumes, detergents, dyes and colors, clothing materials, and even foods can cause the skin to become dry or inflamed. Whereas some children develop a noticeable rash, others simply get dry and flaky. You can usually tell if an irritant is causing your child’s rash because the rash will break out only where the irritant comes into contact with the skin. For instance, if your detergent is to blame, the rash will occur only on skin covered by clothing. Nickel, which is found in belt buckles and pant snaps, is another common culprit. A nickel rash occurs only where the nickel touches the skin.
This rule of rash distribution doesn’t hold true for food rashes. In fact, when eczema is caused by food, the rash can be localized to a very small area (such as just around the mouth), or it can cover the entire body.