Before the advent of Internet search engines, parents obtained much of their medical advice from their child's doctor. Today, with a plethora of information available at their fingertips, parents have more sources to consult than ever before. Yet dermatologists warn parents that not everything they read on blogs and websites about the safety of skin care products is true.
"Parents who have read about concerns with ingredients found in children's skin care products sometimes make choices that, unfortunately, do more harm than good," said board-certified dermatologist Renee Howard, MD, FAAD, associate clinical professor of dermatology, University of California, San Francisco. "These parents either don't use the doctor-recommended products on their child or they substitute with natural products, only some of which can be helpful. In children with eczema, these choices can delay the healing process, which can lead to skin infections, further sleep deprivation and disturbance, and even learning delays."
To help parents care for their child's skin, Dr. Howard addresses the safety of children's skin care products and provides advice for parents who have concerns.
Should parents be concerned about the safety of children's skin care products? "I don't believe parents need to be concerned about the safety of most over-the-counter products," said Dr. Howard. "Preservatives and other additives in these products are present in very low concentrations and most do not penetrate the outside barrier of the skin." However, Dr. Howard advises parents that if they want to be cautious, the fewer products used the better, especially when it comes to babies' skin.
What types of products should parents use on children's skin? Dr. Howard recommends using unscented lotions, diaper creams and sunscreens with zinc, and non-lathering cleansers, such as some washes made especially for sensitive skin. Surfactants, which cause soaps and cleansers to bubble up when wet, strip oils from the skin. This can cause a baby's skin to become too dry. An unscented cream is recommended because fragrance can be irritating to babies' skin and may increase their long-term risk of developing a type of rash called contact dermatitis. "Scented skin care products are for the parents' benefit, not the baby's, and aren't worth the risk," said Dr. Howard.
Are "herbal" or "organic" skin care products a safer option? "Natural products aren't necessarily safer, and many have had very limited testing," said Dr. Howard. "Some of these products may not be as effective as traditional skin care products."
Dr. Howard notes the plant compound calendula is commonly found in "herbal" or "organic" skin care products, including products to treat eczema. However, Dr. Howard said calendula is not well tested. "Some studies show calendula is anti-inflammatory, but it's not clear how much calendula is in these products and how effective calendula is compared to hydrocortisone -- a standard treatment for eczema."
How can parents get reliable information on the safety of children's skin care products? Dr. Howard recommends parents ask their child's pediatrician or dermatologist for advice on choosing skin care products and have an open dialogue about any safety concerns. "Parents should be honest about what they are using on their child's skin, including alternative products and therapies, and why they are using them," said Dr. Howard. "If parents have any questions or concerns, they should speak openly with their child's pediatrician or dermatologist. Board-certified dermatologists have years of training, making them experts in all things related to the skin, hair and nails."
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