Childhood Illnesses

Dry Skin

Dry skin conditions are common in babies, children and young people. Sometimes they clear up quickly on their own, but sometimes it will be an ongoing problem.

Dry skin conditions are usually caused by;

  • The age of the child. Dry skin is common in newborns
  • Sensitivity to things in the environment, like cold winds
  • Sensitivity to some ‘chemicals’ in washing powders or soaps
  • Reactions to some foods, pet hairs, dust or cigarette smoke.

Sometimes dry skin conditions can run in families too.

Dive Deeper

Dry Skin in Babies

You new baby's skin has a lot to cope with. It is making the shift from being in the womb surrounded by water. After birth your baby has to get used to being out in the atmosphere, wearing clothes, being washed. This often means they can have peeling, dry patches of skin.

The best way to avoid dry skin, is to give their skin time to adjust to the outside world.

  • Don’t rush to bath your baby. When you do wash them use plain warm water. Even ‘sensitive’ skin products can be too much for new skin. Stick to just water for the first month.
  • Wash baby clothes in ‘non-biological’ washing powders and make sure they are rinsed well.
  • You don’t need to put anything on the dry skin – it is a stage and it will pass. If you are worried about this you can talk to your pharmacist.


When patches of dry itchy skin keep appearing it is known as eczema.

About 20% of children will have eczema at some point during their childhood. It can vary from the occasional ‘patch’ to a condition that causes a lot of discomfort and needs specialist care. Most children will be free of eczema by the time they are seven. By the age of sixteen 75% of children will have grown out of it.

Treating Eczema

Keeping the skin moisturised is the best help for eczema symptoms. Emollients (medical moisturisers) are often enough to manage mild to moderate eczema.

    • Ask your health visitor, pharmacist, practice nurse or GP for advice on which emollient might be best for your child.
    • It is usually trial and error to find the one that works best.
    • Use at least three times a day, including on damp skin after washing.
    • Keep using the emollients even when the symptoms have gone away to help prevent it coming back.

Sometimes flare ups need steroid treatment to settle them.

Itchy Skin

Keeping the skin well moisturised will help with the itch - but it will also help if:

    • You dress your child in loose, natural fabric like cotton. All-in-ones at bedtime can make it harder for your child to scratch in their sleep.
    • Keep fingernails short.
    • Keep their bedroom at a cool temperature.
    • Try not to say ‘don’t itch’ which might make the urge to scratch stronger. Distract them with stories and games instead.
    • Try and use relaxation techniques – there are lots available online for different age groups.

Flare Ups

You might notice that certain things seem to make the eczema worse. You will be able to avoid some of these – like soaps and some washing powders. If you think it is some foods or drinks that make your child’s eczema worse – discuss this with your GP.

If the skin becomes red and weepy and /or crusty it may be infected - contact your GP for advice. If the eczema proves hard to manage some children will be referred to a children’s specialist skin doctor (dermatologist).

It is not safe to limit your child’s diet because you think they have an allergy without medical advice and support.

Cradle Cap

Cradle cap is very normal on babies. It is dry skin that affects the scalp and sometimes the forehead or eyebrows. It can look a bit ‘crusty’ but it is not itchy or sore.

You can:

  • Wash your baby’s hair with baby shampoo and rinse really well with clear water.
  • Use a baby brush to gently loosen flakes. 
  • Massage the area with vegetable oil to soften crusts. Leave on overnight, then shampoo and rinse well the next day. 

Do not pick at the area as this can make it sore and introduce infection.

If the cradle cap seems to bother your baby or you are worried that it is spreading to other parts of the body, or it looking sore, weepy or inflamed you should call your GP. 

Who can Help?

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text ChatHealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.

The Lullaby Trust - Baby Check App - This app has simple checks that you can do if your baby is ill and helps you think about whether they need to see a doctor or health professional.

You can speak to other Norfolk parents and carers by clicking our online community forum below.

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