Our sweet little one has trouble with dry skin. Sometimes during the night, there can be 40 minutes of scratching, which keeps everyone up! We put lotion on the skin, we sometimes even put Burt Bees Multipurpose Ointment on the skin to help seal in moisture. This actually works pretty well, usually. We live in a cold climate and we have forced air heat. We do run a humidifier in the living room, and we put it next to the door to her bedroom (which is next to the living room). It seems like this year we are having trouble keeping up with the dry air! I'm wondering if anyone has any recommendations for keeping their preschool kiddos well hydrated during the day. We think that if we can push water we will have a better chance to stay ahead of the dry skin. Any thoughts?
For the most part, what worked for us with our child when he was a bit younger and had particularly dry skin was a combination of ointments (like a petroleum jelly, even) on exposed skin, humidified air, and being a bit more circumspect with hand washing.
It didn't seem to matter how much water he drank; I don't know that drinking more than 'normal' hydration levels is going to impact skin dryness, but I'm not an expert. It certainly didn't seem to help with us. It might help if she's actually dehydrated, though, so if that's a possibility obviously make sure that's not happening (for this and other reasons!).
Does she bathe every day? If so, this could be contributing to the problem. Soaps remove skin's natural defenses from drying out - namely, skin oils. Having shorter baths, in less hot water, and less frequent baths overall can help here - for example, the first tip on many guides to dry skin is to reduce bath time. We bathe maybe twice a week, and that's sufficient for cleanliness, and reduced our dry skin issues significantly - and also reduced the temperature of the water some.
You may also want to consider an in-line humdifier if that's possible - something like this - which would directly add moisture to the heated air. That helps the whole house.
I doubt putting a humidifier outside her bedroom helps almost at all; the odds are the room is positively pressured, so air flows into the room from the furnace and then out the door, not in through the door, so you're just humidifying the doorway (and if the door is shut, even less is getting in). Unless you have an air return inside her room, anyway, in which case it's possible it will help some. More helpful might be to humidify near the air return, though you'd have to have enough for the whole house which seems hard to do. Most helpful in the short term would be to humidify the room itself by putting a humidifier in the room near the vents.
Finally, we try to have comfortable cotton clothes for our son, who not only had particularly dry skin but was sensitive to fabrics. This can help and is often recommended, both because it makes it less of a problem that they have dry skin (as synthetic fabrics and wools can be itchy) and because it makes the dry skin less irritated. Night time we often try cotton-only pajamas, which can be hard to find as they have to be tighter fitting to avoid fire hazards (the loose fitting pajamas have to be treated with flame retardants, at least in the US) but help some there too. That can be a plus and a minus though as tighter fitting clothing can make things more itchy, so play that one by ear.
Dry skin is the leading cause of itchiness during the wintertime, and @Joe hit every point. I just want to reiterate the high points and add a couple of things that might give you good results:
- Don't use detergent (e.g. body gel/wash) or regular soap; both strip the skin pretty significantly, the first because they often use sodium laurel (or laureth) sulphate as the main ingredient, and regular soap uses saponified coconut oil. Both of these ingredients are known skin irritants. When you do bathe her, Dove or Olay are better choices.
- Consider that the only parts of the body of a 3 yr old that needs washing are the hands, the face, and her bottom.
- Use 'cooler' warm water as opposed to hotter water for the bath. It decreases time in the tub as well as less stripping of skin oils.
- As @Anne commented, apply moisturizer immediately after patting (not rubbing) her dry. The Burt's Bees ointment you're using looks like a good choice. Look for moisturizers with cocoa/shea butter/beeswax (all 'sealants), urea/honey/glycerine (humectants), allantoin/lanolin derivative/calendula extract (healing).
- Apply moisturizer twice daily every day regardless. You will get her skin into good shape, then keep it that way.
- If you need even more, consider applying a light layer of avocado or jojoba oil to the itchiest areas, rub it in for a few minutes, then wipe of the excess with a soft cloth.
- Don't worry about water intake; that over-hydrating decreases skin dryness is a myth.
- You might try an extra plain water rinse on washing her clothing in case of detergent remaining on the clothing.
- Moisturizers are mostly water, which is why they're immediately somewhat soothing to dry skin. Ointments/balms (true balms) have no water, and will not be immediately soothing for dry skin. They are especially effective when applied after skin has been in water.
As @Joe said, try humidifying the air in her bedroom, and be mindful of clothing choices.
If this doesn't work, consider taking her to the doctor to see if she has a medical condition.
You can make your own ointment relatively cheaply with ingredients bought in the supermarket and off the internet. Sunflower seed oil, Jojoba oil, beeswax, and cocoa/shea butter are all you need. Experiment. Start with 1/3 sunflower seed oil, 1/3 Jojoba oil, 1/3 (beeswax + cocoa butter). Melt wax/butter, add oils, stir well, pour into sterile container. Wash your hands each time before dipping into the ointment. Vary the proportions until you have the consistency you like. Massage into skin for a few minutes and wipe off excess (there will be excess).
If you want to go for an even more healing ointment, break open a few capsules of Vitamin E oil into your melted oils and consider using lanolin. It smells funny but it's quite helpful, and the cocoa butter/beeswax will mask the scent.
Making your own lotion is much trickier because you need emulsifiers and preservatives. It's not worth the effort unless you're seriously into skin care products!
I used to make skin care products for health care workers, a group whose hands were a terrible mess in the wintertime because of constant handwashing between patients with harsh, cheap hospital detergent-based soaps. That's why I haven't provided references. I did years of reading and trying different formulations. I hope this has been helpful.