A guide to common childhood skin conditions

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Information & Advice

A guide to common childhood skin conditions

Your child's skin: some signs to look out for

Their chubby little arms and legs may feel deliciously soft. But your child's delicate skin may also make them more prone to a range of common skin conditions. These can include eczema, nappy rash and cradle cap.

Common baby rashes

“Baby rashes are common in the first few days after birth,” says Dr Martin Ward Platt, a consultant paediatrician with 20 years’ experience.

“Sometimes they look scary but they will usually go away.”

The problem for parents is, these minor rashes will often develop after they have brought their baby home from the hospital, meaning there may be nobody on hand to reassure them.

“Your midwife should be able to help,” says Martin.

If your baby’s rash resembles red pin-prick marks or purple bruises and doesn’t fade when you put a glass on it, you should seek medical advice immediately since these can be signs of meningitis. Other symptoms of meningitis can include a temperature higher than 38°C (100.4°F), a stiff body, vomiting and shivering.

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Eczema: what is it?

Eczema (also known as dermatitis) describes the dry, itchy skin which, in babies, can appear on the scalp, forehead, chest, arms and legs, most commonly in the creases of knees and elbows. The more severe cases can be very itchy for your baby and may disrupt their sleep. Contact your GP for advice. Most babies will grow out of eczema.

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Nappy rash and cradle cap

There are two skin conditions that will affect most babies at some point: nappy rash and cradle cap.

Nappy rash is a skin irritation, usually caused by your child’s skin being in contact with a damp or dirty nappy for a sustained period.

“Small changes to your child’s health or diet can lead to nappy rash: for example, if your child goes on to antibiotics, it may lead to a loose stool which can, in turn, cause nappy rash,” says Martin. “There’s a range of over-the-counter creams you can get to help treat nappy rash.” Be sure to make your pharmacist aware if your child is on any existing medication. If symptoms don’t clear up, contact your GP.

Cradle cap takes the form of yellow or brown scaly and greasy patches on your child’s scalp. It may spread to their face, under their arms or to their groin. It’s not known what causes it. Unlike eczema, it’s not normally itchy and will probably clear up over time. It rarely persists in children over three.

You can help ease cradle cap by washing your child’s hair with a mild baby shampoo.

Massaging baby oil or petroleum jelly into the scalp may also help loosen the scales. If the cradle cap becomes infected, you should contact your GP.

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Dealing with warts

As soon as your children start to socialise with others, they become more likely to pick up infections. Common skin infections they may contract include warts or wart-like growths called molluscum contagiosum.

“Warts and mollescum both usually disappear after a few months but it’s a sensible move to take your child to the doctor or pharmacist who may suggest other treatments,” says Martin.

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Impetigo: what is it?

This is a common red and yellow crusty rash that mainly affects children.

It will often appear on your child’s face, although it can occur anywhere. Mild outbreaks are often treated with antibiotic cream or ointment so contact your GP.

Impetigo is infectious so try to ensure your child doesn’t share towels with other family members and, if you can, prevent them from picking at the rash.

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Scabies: action to take

Unfortunately, mixing with other children in a confined environment like a school also means your child may pick up an infestation such as lice or scabies.

Scabies is caused by parasites burrowing into the skin and laying eggs. It’s extremely itchy. You should see your GP immediately. They will be able to prescribe creams or lotions to kill the parasites and soothe the itching. You should also wash household linen, clothes and towels at a temperature above 50°C (122°F) as the infection is highly contagious.

Children should be kept off school until after the first application of cream has been completed and other family members should be checked for signs of scabies.

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Headlice: action to take

Children catch headlice when they come into close contact with a child who already has them. Often, you will spot the eggs first, which are known as nits.

They are grey and shiny and need to be combed out of the hair. Wet your child’s hair and, using a fine-toothed nit comb, comb the nits out of the hair. It’s best to do this over a white surface, such as a towel or sheet, so that you can see any lice. Continue to do this for a few weeks. If you wish to use a lotion to treat the condition, seek advice from your pharmacist or GP.

“Things like lice and scabies are so infectious, the whole family may need treatment,” says Martin. So check the whole family and treat if necessary.

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Chickenpox: soothing the itching

Most children will catch chickenpox during their school or pre-school years. Martin says: “That’s the best time. It can be far more severe if you catch it as an adult.”

If your child catches chickenpox, keep them at home until the blisters crust over so they do not expose anyone else to the infection. If they have a fever, you can give them ibuprofen (provided they don’t have asthma) or paracetamol but NOT aspirin, which should never be given to children under 16. Check with your pharmacist which painkiller is best for your child and always read the label.

You can, if you want, use calamine lotion to soothe your child’s skin. If the child is very itchy at night, an antihistamine such as chlorphenamine may help. Speak to your pharmacist. Other medication may be prescribed by your GP but the infection usually clears up without further treatment.

If you are pregnant or have a young baby in the house, or if you have a weakened immune system and you are exposed to chickenpox, contact your GP immediately.

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Garnier Ambre Solaire Kids Very High Protection Moisturising Spray

Child sun care

Probably one of the most important things you can do for your child’s skin is to make sure they don’t get sunburned.

“Don’t strip a child down to their nappy and let them run around in the sunshine,” warns Martin. “There’s good evidence to suggest that allowing children to burn increases their risk of getting skin cancer as an adult. Case control studies show that one of the important risk factors for melanoma is childhood sunburn so keep babies out of direct sunlight.

“Use a good infant suncream – they tend to work extremely well. And make sure exposure to the sun is limited and graduated.”

You can find child-appropriate suncreams here.

Popular products include the Soltan Kids' Waterplay Hypoallergenic Sun Protection Skin.

Another recommended product was Ambre Solaire Kids Very High Protection Coloured Spray. “This suncream is great for use on children and early aged teens,” said Amyandbeth on our ratings and reviews.

Also popular is Nivea Sun Children’s Coloured Spray which, again, has five star ratings and reviews. “This sunspray keeps the whole family well protected. It stays on during long periods in the water and doesn't get removed too quickly by wearing clothes. The colour effect ensures that your child is completely covered. Once spread, it becomes invisible quickly. Pleasant and cool feel,” says Boots.com customer Arouet.

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Products to consider:

Always read the pack information and check whether product is suitable for your child’s age group. If symptoms persist, contact your GP.

For nappy rash:
Bepanthen Nappy Care Ointment
Bepanthen Ointment "A star buy" says Mummy1984, who has given this product a five star ratings and review.

For warts:
Scholl Freeze Verruca and Wart Remover (four years and over)
Wartner For Kids (four years and over)
Boots Verruca and Wart Removal Freeze Spray (four years and over)

Find out more on BootsWebMD:
Slideshow: Common childhood skin problems
Skin problems health centre

Related categories:
Suncare products
Baby skincare
Children's suncare
Your family's guide to staying safe in the sun
Summer for children

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