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Dry Skin or Eczema?

If your child's scratching her skin, don't just reach for the moisturizer...yet. Itchy, irritating patches may signal eczema -- approximately one in three kids has it by age 3 -- and it tends to flare up in very cold or very hot weather. "Moisturizing products to treat dryness, even those for 'sensitive' skin, may contain fragrance, color, and detergents that can irritate skin with eczema," says Leslie Baumann, M.D., director of cosmetic dermatology at the University of Miami.

If your child's itchy, see the pediatrician (who may then refer you to a dermatologist) to find out whether it's eczema. If so, a steroid cream (Elocon) or one of the newer nonsteroidal immunosuppressant creams (Elidel, Protopic) may be prescribed. Choose gentle cleansers and moisturizers that are free of color, fragrance, lanolin, and the detergent sodium lauryl sulfate (its gentler cousin, sodium laureth sulfate, is fine). Visit for more information.