We know that children have sensitive skin, vulnerable and susceptible to conditions like dryness, eczema, and rashes. With that in mind, how can we treat it without harsh chemicals, concerning additives, or artificial colors and fragrances, while maintaining its integrity and function?
Helping kids down the natural path
Skin is the largest and fastest growing organ in the body. It helps to regulate temperature, covers internal organs, and holds them together, and keeps foreign invaders, such as germs, from entering the body.
Hydration and a healthy diet are foundational for keeping this critical organ healthy in kids, along with boosting and protecting their general health, says Melissa Larson, ND, a specialist in pediatric skin conditions at Seattle-based Ballard Natural Medicine.
Larson says naturopathy has the edge when it comes to treating kids’ skin conditions, as the practice takes the whole person into account and seeks to treat an ailment’s source. What’s more: Children respond well to dietary changes, vitamins, and gentle herbal therapies. Many of these treatments have been well-researched for their efficacy, tend to be less invasive, and produce less side effects as well, explains Larson.
Building a fortified skin-focused diet
Good fats are particularly important for keeping skin healthy—and may promote cognitive development in babies and ward off type 2 diabetes in children and teens. Examples of foods rich in healthy fats include avocados, nuts, and cold-water fish (such as salmon).
Getting enough essential fatty acids through these foods can prove challenging. When this is the case, Larson suggests fatty acid supplements. Another common supplement she suggests for kids’ skin health is probiotics.
“Balancing out the gut flora can have a big impact on skin health,” says Larson.
Probiotics are available in chewable form, pill form, or powder form–which can be mixed into food. Probiotics labelled for adults are just as effective for kids as probiotics labelled for kids, says Larson.
The best way to get kids excited about a skin-enriching diet is getting them involved, says Larson. For instance, teach them how to grow veggies in a pot, take them to the store where they can pick out a new food to try, or have them assist with dinner prep.
“Sometimes, this doesn’t work as well,” explains Larson. “So just keep offering a variety of foods as part of what you do as a family.”
The importance of hydration (and strategies to keep your child drinking)
As a general rule of thumb, Larson recommends adding 1 cup/8oz for each year of age, until you reach 64 oz/day.
To get younger kids drinking, Larson suggests taking them to the store and letting them select a special cup used only for drinking their water. To inspire older youth who are resistant to drinking water, try complementing their H2O with macerated fresh fruit, lemon or lime slices, or making herbal iced teas. “Kids often enjoy chamomile, peppermint, and hibiscus teas,” says Larson.
Many skin ailments, including dry, cracked skin, scrapes, and abrasions, need some extra help to repair. For these common conditions, Larson endorses an all-purpose salve consisting of Calendula, comfrey, beeswax, organic olive oil, and vitamins E and A.
“Calendula is one of my favorite herbs for healing,” she says.
Additionally, if you’re a green thumb, you may want to grow an aloe vera plant, as it can help to heal skin, and is especially effective in treating superficial burns. According to Larson, you can break a piece of it off, extract the gel and apply it.
Larson recommends performing a patch test first on the inside of the wrist, especially when you’re applying new products containing essential oils. Essential oils can cause reactions, as can other natural remedies when applied on sensitive skin.
When treating eczema, Larson says it’s important to know about the difference between salves, ointments, creams, and lotions. Salves, ointments, and creams are particularly effective to use within a couple of minutes after kids hop out of the shower. “Oil-based products really lock in the moisture,” comments Larson. Water-based lotions don’t work as well, since they let the water evaporate off the skin and can actually dry the skin out more.
Staying safe in the sun
When you’re choosing a sunscreen, scan the active ingredients on the label. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are considered safe and natural sunscreen ingredients. One caveat, though: even if these natural ingredients are the only ones listed, the nonactive ingredients could be synthetic and potentially harmful to your health or the health of the environment.
Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database (ewg.org/skindeep) to see how your sunscreen—and other products—stacks up.
Why natural skin products have an edge over synthetic formulations, and ingredients to look for
If formulated properly, natural products should show no difference in efficacy or performance when put head-to-head with synthetic elixirs, says Jessica Iclisoy, founder and developer of the 26-year-old company California Baby.
“The natural products will actually outperform because they are gentler—they cleanse without stripping or causing damage to the skin,” says Iclisoy.
Here are Iclisoy’s Top 5 natural products–and ingredients–for kids’ skin:
- Creams, lotions, and shampoos containing calendula flower. Calendula is Iclisoy’s go-to kids’ skin care ingredient–California Baby grows their own in a certified organic field in Santa Barbara County. Calendula flower is very soothing and gentle on the skin. It also has antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.
- Bubble bath with French lavender. Lavender has calming properties, perfect for soothing little ones to sleep, says Iclisoy.
- Sun care or after sun products containing aloe vera. Aloe vera has a cooling effect in the heat, says Iclisoy. Studies show it can be beneficial in healing mild to moderate sunburns, and can also help moisturize the skin, preventing post-burn skin peeling. Iclisoy prefers a soothing spray for application, but appreciates the substance in a cream form as well.
- Eczema-care products with organic oats. Oats soothe irritated and eczema-prone skin. California Baby uses gluten-free colloidal oatmeal, manufactured in a single source facility, and tested to ensure no cross contamination has occurred. As not all companies test their oats, Iclisoy advises confirming the product you’re using does.
- Moisturizing products, like creams and lotions containing coconut oil. “Coconut oil is a fantastic emollient,” says Iclisoy. It’s a very flexible product, but ensure yours is organic and raw, she adds.