We asked top doctors what they do when their kids end up with chapped, cracked or dry skin. Here, their best drug-free remedies:
For a Dry Scalp: A Tea Tree Massage
“The cold air can dry out my son’s scalp, causing itchy dandruff,” says ob-gyn Heather Bartos, MD, a mother of two in Cross Roads, Texas. “He calls it ‘white pepper,’ and he cannot wait for me to help him get rid of it.” To eliminate the flakes and ease the itch, Dr. Bartos applies about 20 drops of tea tree oil all over her son’s head, massaging it in for about five minutes. “Though he’d let me do it for an hour,” she says. Dr. Bartos allows the oil — which is a super-moisturizing anti-fungal — to sit for about a half hour before she washes it out with a gentle baby shampoo. “It works great, and my son has amazingly soft and shiny hair the next day — with no flakes!”
For Cracked Hands: Sock Mittens
“The lack of humidity makes my kids’ hands very dry,” says father-of-two Ted Lain, M.D., chief medical officer at Sanova Dermatology in Austin, Texas. “Once the itching starts, it becomes more difficult to repair the skin barrier.” To fix the problem, Dr. Lain applies a thin layer of petroleum jelly to the kids’ hands before bed to prevent water loss, then has them wear clean socks as mittens. “The socks help push the Vaseline into the skin, speeding up healing,” says Dr. Lain. The skin absorbs the ointment overnight, so there’s nothing to wipe off the next day. “In the morning, if more is needed, I reapply a small amount and fully rub it in.”
For Windburn: Calendula Cream
“When it gets cold and windy, my daughter gets chapped cheeks,” says Amy Esposito, MD, an assistant professor in internal medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Since Dr. Esposito can’t stay indoors with her two kiddos all winter, she turns to calendula cream (available at drugstores). Calendula is rich in carotenoids and flavonoids, which repair the skin barrier, preventing dryness and irritation. “Before we go outside, I apply a thick amount to her cheeks, and I bring some with us in case I need to reapply.” The cream starts to soothe her cheeks right away. Adds Dr. Esposito, “It protects while it heals.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.