Open Accessibility Menu

Common skin conditions in children

Published in Skin Care Author: Jessica Newman,MD Author: Jessica Newman, MD

When a rash shows up on your little one’s soft skin, it can be worrisome. Read on to learn about common skin conditions that your child may experience.

  • Eczema – the skin becomes itchy, dry and easily irritated. It often first appears as raised, reddened skin that can turn moist and ooze. The two main types of eczema are atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis often occurs in infants and children with a family history of allergy, asthma or eczema. It is an inherent tendency toward dry skin that results in itching, leading to scratching and then rash. Treatment focuses on moisturizing the skin by taking daily lukewarm baths without soap (just a mild non-soap cleanser to dirty areas), then immediately applying an unscented cream or ointment-based moisturizer. Over the counter plain 1% hydrocortisone ointment can be tried on areas of rash for short periods of time. Stronger medications can be prescribed by your doctor if needed. Irritant contact dermatitis is the result of a skin irritant such as scented lotion or soap, citrus juices, rough fabric, wool, or drool. 
  • Impetigo – a contagious bacterial infection that often starts from breaks in the skin (sometimes caused by eczema) and usually appears on the face, arms or legs. It is caused by staphylococcus, or “staph,” bacteria or the streptococcus bacteria, which also causes “strep” throat. If it is staph bacteria, the infection often causes blisters filled with clear fluid that break easily. A scab forms with a honey-colored crust. Impetigo is treated with topical or oral antibiotics. Avoid contact with other children until the rash clears or the child has been on antibiotics for at least two days. Keep the child’s towels separate so the rash doesn’t spread to other family members. Wash surfaces in the home that are commonly touched, such as toilets, countertops and door handles, with a sanitizing cleanser.
  • Diaper rash – very common among infants, rash in the diaper area is often caused by irritation from urine and stool. It often worsens if the baby has diarrhea or is teething. Make sure the diaper is getting changed every few hours. Consider using alcohol-free or fragrance-free wipes, or even just plain water on a paper towel to clean the skin. Apply a generous layer of diaper paste, such as Aquaphor or zinc oxide paste. If you are using cloth diapers, consider switching to disposable diapers, which wick moisture away from the skin, until the rash improves. A health care provider can help sort out whether there is a bacterial or yeast infection going on at the same time. Seek medical attention if you notice pustules, blisters or sores, if the rash involves primarily the skin folds, or if not responding to the suggestions listed above.
  • Poison Ivy – a three-leafed green weed that has a red stem at the center can cause an allergic reaction if its oil, urushiol, gets onto the skin. The rash can show up hours to three days after contact with the plant and produces red blisters that are very itchy. 
  • Hives – or welts, consist of itchy, raised red bumps sometimes with pale centers. The rash can appear on one part of the body, such as the trunk, or all over. The spots appear to move around over the course of 24 hours, disappearing in one area and reappearing in another. The most common cause of hives in a child is a viral illness. Other causes of hives include foods (such as: milk, shellfish, berries, cheese, nuts, eggs), medications, plants, pollen, bites or stings from bees or other insects and a response to an infection. It is not always possible to determine the cause of the hives, but keeping a diary of when the rash appears can help identify any potential triggers. An oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl, and putting on cool compresses can help the itching. If the child is having trouble breathing or swallowing, or you notice swelling on the face or around the eyes, get emergency treatment immediately.
  • Cradle Cap/seborrheic dermatitis - common in babies, scaling and sometimes redness develop on the scalp. It can also involve the face, armpits and diaper area. This noncontagious skin condition is usually not bothersome to the baby and often resolves by the first birthday. Wash baby’s hair often with a mild baby shampoo and follow with soft brushing to gently loosen and remove the scales. See a doctor if the rash involves the nose, if it persists beyond one year or if you notice pustules.
  • Molluscum Contagiosum – is a highly-contagious, but not dangerous, skin condition that causes small, pink or flesh-colored bumps anywhere on the body but most often on the face, eyelids, trunk and armpits. They can appear alone or in a group. Sometimes an eczema-type rash can surround the bumps. The virus is spread by skin-to-skin contact or by touching an object that has the virus on it, such as a toy or a towel. It is easily spread in wet environments such as swimming pools. The bumps often go away on their own in six to nine months. There are treatments that can be done by a medical provider to try to make the bumps go away more quickly, if desired. The virus is contagious until the bumps disappear. To prevent the molluscum virus from spreading, avoid touching or scratching the bumps. Put a bandage or medical tape over the bumps, wash bedding often, and do not share towels or washcloths.
  • Ringworm – a scaly round or oval flat rash found anywhere on the body or scalp, this rash is caused by a fungus (not a worm). Rash areas typically have a smooth center and red, scaly outside. It tends to be itchy and uncomfortable. When it appears in the scalp, it can sometimes cause hair loss that is reversible once the infection is treated. Ringworm is spread from person to person when an infected person comes in direct contact with another person or shares items such as hats, hair bushes or combs. In some cases, it can be spread from an infected dog or cat. A single patch of ringworm can often be treated with an over-the-counter medication; but more than one patch, or a patch on the scalp needs treatment recommendation from your child’s health care provider.