Skin Care for Children: What You Need to Know

Skin Care

Photo courtesy Celebrity Baby Blog

With skin care becoming increasingly popular with ever-younger crowds, I actually found myself wondering what skin care little Suri Cruise is using. (This may also suggest that I am perhaps a little too obsessed with skin care and In Touch magazine, but nevertheless…) 🙂 With that said, what skin care should and should not be used on children? Here are five guidelines for parents and guardians to follow:

1. As a precautionary measure, use only physical sunscreens.

As described by Dr. Leslie Baumann in the textbook Cosmetic Dermatology, there are two different categories of sunscreens: physical sunscreens, which scatter or reflect UV radiation, and chemical sunscreens, which absorb UV radiation and then dissipate the radiation as either heat or light, usually of longer wavelength that does not affect the skin.

Two chemical sunscreens, avobenzone and oxybenzone (the latter present in 20-30% of sunscreens), have been demonstrated by Hayden et. al to be absorbed into the body and secreted into the urine of users. While avobenzone and oxybenzone are not considered to be toxic agents in the medical community, it is still not recommended that sunscreens with avobenzone or oxybenzone are used by pregnant or nursing women nor small children, as they are absorbed into the body. Physical sunscreens, like Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen Cream SPF 30 ($12.79, with 5.0% Titanium Dioxide and 10.0% Zinc Oxide, are a preferrable option, as they have not been shown to be excreted into the urine.

2. Make sure your children receive adequate sun (UV) exposure.

(Please note that adequate is not excessive.) While children’s exposure to sunlight has been associated with later effects like skin cancer and premature aging, too little sunlight is linked to rickets and vitamin D deficiency. According to the journal Pediatrics, child patients are advised to have a minimum intake of 200 IU of vitamin D daily, from infancy through the teenage years. However, keep in mind that vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin (i.e., it can accumulate to toxic levels), so excessive consumption (2000 IU for adults/day according to the Mayo Clinic) is not recommended.

In addition, actual sun exposure is important: a recent study demonstrated that people residing in Australia (just below the equator) produce 3.4 times more vitamin › Create New Post — WordPress as a result of sun exposure than people in the United Kingdom, and 4.8 times more than people in Scandinavia. Many experts recommend ten to fifteen minutes of sun exposure at least two times per week to the face, arms, hands, or back without sunscreen.

3. As another precautionary measure, use sodium lauryl sulfate-free cleansers.

Sodium lauryl sulfate is added to many children’s cleansers for the fun bubbling effect. (I admit to being a Mr. Bubble fan myself). However, sodium lauryl sulfate is a known, documented skin irritant. According to Dr. Leslie Baumann’s Cosmetic Dermatology text, “[Sodium lauryl sulfate] is such a consistent irritator for skin with an impaired barrier that it is actually used in ‘challenge patch tests’ to evaluate the barrier function of skin…it strips the natural lipids from the skin, disrupting the barrier and rendering it more susceptible to external irritants.” In The DERMADoctor Skinstruction Manual, dermatologist Dr. Audrey Kunin further advises that sodium lauryl sulfate has been additionally blamed on “chapped lips and perioral dermatitis, a rash around the mouth.”

With that said, I highly recommend a sodium lauryl sulfate-free cleanser for children. I particularly like Burt’s Bees Citrus and Ginger Body Wash ($7.59, for everyday, “oh-no-the-baby’s-got-spaghetti-sauce-all-around-her-mouth” cleansing. (And no, I don’t have children yet, but two of my best friends are nannies, so I have heard stories galore.) 🙂

4. Apply lotion post-bath.

Applying lotion after a bath or shower is an excellent way to keep your child’s skin feeling hydrated and soft, particularly in the colder winter months. A petrolatum-rich lotion especially locks in the moisture; an excellent choice is Theraplex ($16.50, And if you prefer all-natural skin care without petrolatum, I like Whish Body Butter ($24.00,

5. Visit a pediatric dermatologist with any signs of skin trouble.

Pediatric dermatologists are great because they specialize in common pediatric skin diseases and conditions. (I myself am thinking of becoming one, partly because I love children, and partly because I don’t know if I will ever stop joking around long enough to deal with adults all day, see below). To find a pediatric dermatologist in your area, a fairly reliable locator (through is here.

In summary…

It’s never to early to teach your children how to take care of his or her skin. Start healthy habits early with limited sun exposure, non-absorbed sunscreens, non-irritating cleansers, and post-bath lotions. And don’t forget to consult a pediatric dermatologist at any signs of trouble! 🙂

For a post on the ingredients in skin care pregnant or nursing women should not be using, please click here.

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  • Great advice, as always! One thing I do have questions about is the suggestion to use Burt’s Bees Citrus and Ginger body wash. Full disclosure here: my 4-year-old has had allergic reactions to 3 products in her life; two were Burt’s Bees (the wash & lotion from the Baby line).

    In my opinion, the most likely culprit for my daughter’s reactions are the high level of fragrance & botanical oils Burt’s uses. The formula you mention is no different in this respect; ginger, grapefruit, orange, and lemon oils are all known skin irritants (and those aren’t even the only ones in the formula).

    I also wonder…I believe I count 6 different surfectant ingredients in this formula. So what kind of cumulative effect would that have on the formula? Could it possibly be more desirable to use a cleanser w/ SLS if it means a smaller quantity of surfectant is used to get the same results?

    Ahh…being a mom this day in age is fun. So much info means we have more power to make better choices for our children, but in many cases, it also means more questions! 🙂

  • Hi Janna,

    Yes I do go to the University of Pittsburgh. The pic is actually from the Pitt Medical School formal dance!

    Hope you’re doing well,

  • janna

    omg do you go to university of pittsburgh. It looks like Sutherland dorm is behind you!

  • leane

    consuming fake vitamin D is no replacement for natural sunshine…..we are made to be in nature, not holed up inside pumping pills…your body is a well-tuned machine and you should let it do its job….enjoy nature and the sun, go to the beach, or have a short picnic outside….at least when you are old and dying you can say you enjoyed yourself (I’m talking to you hermit David)….sunshine helps your liver, your skin, your whole body and your soul!
    Just like everything in the world, be intelligent and use moderation!

  • Dear Shiho,

    I’m glad that you like it! Thank you for your kind comments!

    Happy Reading!

  • Shiho

    I LOVE your blog! It’s very resourceful and now I’ll have to add to my bookmark for future reference. Although I don’t have children, I found this interesting. Again, keep up the great work. 😀

  • David

    Hello. I like a lot your blog, but I disagree with your statement about sun exposure. Simply read American Academy of Dermatology official recommendations about vitamin D and Sun published last November: Avoid always sun and take a vitamin D supplement. I recommend to take 1000 UI of vitamin D3 every day based on clinical evidence. Life Extension Foundation says based on data that this supplementation may be a national emergency in US. Regards from Europe!

  • Ann

    Oh, to have skin like Suri Cruise! She’s a beauty

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