Mothers & Children

Childrens skin

The skin is an organ which develops and changes throughout our lifetime. Image: nathalielaure on FlickrCaring for skin for children aged 5-12 years

As with other parts of the human body, the skin is an organ which develops and changes throughout our lifetime. Skin carries out many essential tasks, protecting us from the environment; regulating body temperature; sensing touch and pain and producing vitamin D. The development of skin is a gradual process, beginning in utero and continuing through childhood to maturity.

Skin structure

A child’s skin structure is very similar to their parents’, and develops over time. The epidermis (the outer layer of skin) in children has largely the same structure as adult skin, however, the stratum corneum (the top layer of the epidermis) is not as robust. The collagen fibres (protein which gives skin its volume and strength), hair follicles and sebaceous (oil-producing) glands are immature. These become modified with increasing age, along with a steady increase in skin thickness throughout childhood. For a more indepth look at skin structure, see this page on our Science of Skin website.

Children and toddlers have smaller cells on the surface of their skin (corneocytes), suggesting the body is quick to replace of skin cells. The epidermis is formed from cells in the basal (bottom) layer; these migrate to the surface and are constantly shedded. Research shows that in healthy adults this process takes between 28-35 days, by comparison, the cells on the surface of young skin are renewed as often as every 15-30 days.

The adhesion between the epidermis at the top of the skin and the dermis underneath is not as strong in children as it is in adults. This is why sometimes a child is more sensitive to certain kinds of stimulation, such as insect bites. Children also have low levels of lipids (fats) in the surface of their skin; something which then increases dramatically in both males and females during puberty. Several studies indicate that children may have drier skin than adults. It is thought that this is because young skin has less fats and so is not such an effective barrier to water loss through evaporation.

Skin care for children

010301 girl washing hands 220

Washing children’s skin

Good hygiene is vital for keeping a child’s skin healthy. How often children should take baths or showers is the subject of much professional debate, though most pediatricians agree that once every one or two days is sufficient in most cases, as children do not produce the same skin secretions as adults. Practicality also plays a role: children who have been particularly active, hot or involved in messy/dirty activities naturally need a wash. By the same token, pre-teens and older children entering puberty should bathe at least once daily. It is important to teach your child proper sanitation from a young age as these habits will be with them for life.

Children should be encouraged to wash their hands frequently; before meals, after play, after patting animals, etc. Doing this often and thoroughly helps prevent the spread of infection and disease. The proper technique is to first wet the hands, scrub with soap for 15 to 20 seconds, rinse and dry with a clean towel.

Sensitive skin

Children with dry or sensitive skin may benefit from the use of milder cleansers or soaps, free from perfumes and harsh chemicals. As with toddlers and babies, regularly moisturising the affected areas will help to minimise dryness, flakiness or itchiness.

It has been shown that reducing a child’s exposure to UV can reduce their long term risk of skin cancers. Image: PhiveKali on FlickrSun care for children

It is during childhood that we accumulate much of our overall lifetime dose of ultraviolet (UV) radiation and it has been shown that reducing a child’s exposure to UV can reduce their long term risk of skin cancers. By teaching your child how to protect their skin from sun - and leading by example - you can help to prevent short term damage like sunburn or scarring and minimise their risk of developing skin cancer or prematurely aged skin later in life. For more information, see our article on Sun safety.

References

American Academy of Dermatology, For Kids, Accessed 03 November 2016, <https://www.aad.org/public/kids>.

Akutsu, N et al., 2009, ‘Functional Characteristics of the Skin Surface of Children Approaching Puberty: Age and Seasonal Influences’, Acta Dermato-Venereologica, 89(1):21-27.

Hijazy, M, 2000, Principles of Pediatric Dermatology, retrieved 26 July 2010, <http://www.dermatologyinfo.net/english/ebook.htm>.

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