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Protect Your Child’s Skin From Irritants

By Elizabeth Shimer Bowers
WebMD Feature

To kids, home is a safe haven where they play with toys and cuddle with their pets. Unfortunately, in addition to the things they cherish most, many children share their homes with skin irritants that can make them less than comfortable.

“Children are sensitive little creatures; they have thinner skin than adults, and their immune systems aren’t completely developed, so they aren’t as well-equipped to deal with the irritants in their environments,” says Francesca Fusco, MD, dermatologist in private practice in New York City.”

Some of the skin irritants she refers to lurk in the products you least expect; ironically, in the very things you use to make your home clean and inviting. The culprits may include air fresheners, bubble bath, soaps, deodorants, fabric softeners, carpet deodorizers, and many other household products. 

Here are some household products that are particularly likely to cause skin problems such as itching, redness, or other skin irritation in sensitive children.

Laundry detergents and fabric softeners: “The perfumes and additives in laundry products may cause skin problems,” Dr. Fusco says. “Fabric softener is very allergenic and can cause eczema, which appears as dry, itchy skin,” she says. As an alternative, she suggests using fragrance-free laundry products. Or add a studded laundry ball to the dryer when laundering little ones’ clothes. “It contains no chemicals; the action of it banging around the dryer softens clothing,” she says. Fusco says that adding a little vinegar to the final rinse is another mild alternative to fabric softener.

Fragranced products: Scented soaps, lotions, and shampoos smell nice, but they contain substances that can cause children’s skin allergies and other skin irritations. “Fragrance usually comes from a mix of chemicals added to products,” says Sarah L. Stein, MD, pediatric dermatologist at Comer Children’s Hospital at University of Chicago. Stein recommends using fragrance-free alternatives and being wary of "unscented" imposters. Sometimes manufacturers add ingredients to products to mask the scent. Products are labeled "unscented," but fragrance still lurks. Look for labels that specify “fragrance-free” or “hypoallergenic.”

Harsh soaps: Bar soaps that children use on their bodies and faces and antimicrobial hand soap can adversely affect the skin. “The detergents in these soaps are abrasive and lead to irritated, itchy skin,” says Fusco. The sudsier a soap, the more likely it is to lead to children’s skin problems, according to Fusco. Stick with suds-free or low-sudsing soaps. When in doubt, ask your dermatologist for suggestions.

Exotic fruits: Fruit bowls are countertop staples in many households. And although fruit is a great source of fiber and vitamins for growing kids, some can cause skin allergies in children. “For example, mango rinds can cause a rash around the mouth that looks similar to poison ivy. And when citrus fruits land on your skin and the sun then hits the same area, you can get a red, itchy reaction that looks like a stain on the skin,” Fusco says. To prevent reactions, wash all fruit before cutting or eating it, and keep the rinds of acidic, exotic, or citrus fruits away from sensitive skin.

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