A child is treated in the dermatology ward at Groote Schuur Hospital. PICTURE: LEON LESTRADE/ANA
A child is treated in the dermatology ward at Groote Schuur Hospital. PICTURE: LEON LESTRADE/ANA
A child is treated in the dermatology ward at Groote Schuur Hospital. PICTURE: LEON LESTRADE/ANA
A child is treated in the dermatology ward at Groote Schuur Hospital. PICTURE: LEON LESTRADE/ANA
The slightest visible changes to a child’s skin can set any parent ablaze with paranoia.

“Is it eczema? Or maybe chicken pox? Or even measles?”

Skin is a child’s first barrier of protection against illnesses and external aggressors from their surrounding environment, and for babies it’s even more vulnerable to infections, as it’s 30% thinner than an adults’ skin and loses moisture five times faster.

We spoke to paediatric dermatologist Dr Carol Hlela on different skin conditions parents should worry about.

What are some of the common skin conditions in children that are linked to diseases and what parents should look out for?

The most common skin conditions that are closely linked to diseases range from very dry skin to infections of various sorts, bacterial, viral, fungal to eczema, all the way to conditions that have mortality linked to them.

Parents need to not take abnormally dry skin lightly.

They they need to find out what caused it and how they can help. A baby’s or child’s skin needs to be kept moisturised daily to prevent dryness. Itchy skin that is dry may be a symptom of eczema which could be linked to various other diseases.

Nappy rashes that may not necessarily be caused by poor nappy changing patterns may be manifestations of other conditions such as psoriasis which also tends to appear on armpits and the scalp.

Another skin condition is seborrheic dermatitis which shows itself through cradle cap or eczema. Peeling of the skin may also be linked to nutritional deficiency.

Which skin conditions should parents not stress about, and what are the effective treatments for them?

In the first few days or weeks of baby’s life they tend to develop physiological skin conditions due to the poorly developed skin. A good example is heat rashes that appear due to sweat glands that haven’t developed yet. Parents need to avoid clothing that is too warm.

How does skin protect a baby and why is it so important to keep it nourished?

Skin generally serves as the first line of defence for both babies and adults, it protects the inside organs against unwanted bacteria and other infections.

However, to be able to protect us, it needs to be perfectly intact because when it is broken it fails to act as a barrier.

What should parents do if they can’t afford expensive products?

Parents need to be very careful of what they apply, and financial constraints should not be a reason to apply just anything.

Parents should avoid using adult products not specially designed for babies' skin.

In what instances should parents consult a specialist paediatric dermatologist and not a regular GP?

At any point where the skin has bumps, rashes and is not smooth, parents should start worrying and go to the GP. But GPs sometimes fail to diagnose a simple rash and can over treat, even though it is not required.

It is important to immediately consult a paediatric dermatologist to assure that the condition is not critical. Over treating a simple condition can sometimes worsen the situation.