Your baby has soft, delicate skin that is particularly vulnerable to irritation. Understanding how to care for your baby’s skin best can help you protect them from rashes and skin diseases.
Because your baby’s skin requires special treatment, it’s important to know how to bathe them properly, what products to use, and what irritants to avoid. For parents, it’s also helpful to be able to recognize common skin conditions that can affect babies, and know how to treat them accordingly.
Common skin conditions
- Babies are especially prone to skin rashes in their first few days and weeks as they adapt to their new environment.
- Rashes occur most often in skin folds in the arm, leg, and neck areas. When these areas are left damp and the skin rubs together, rashes can appear.
- To prevent this from happening, ensure you dry your baby’s skin thoroughly after bath time and allow fresh air to get to the skin before dressing them.
- The area of skin around the buttocks, thighs, and lower abdomen covered by the diaper is susceptible to a condition called diaper dermatitis or nappy rash. The moisture inside the diaper and the lack of fresh air in this area can disrupt the skin barrier and cause irritation.
- If left untreated, diaper dermatitis can progress from mild to severe with increased pain and inflammation. The best way to prevent diaper dermatitis is frequent changing and skin cleansing.
- If your baby has this condition, it’s helpful to expose the area to fresh air for a few hours a day to avoid further irritation and friction from the diaper. You can also use creams and lotions containing petrolatum, zinc oxide, or paraffin that are specially formulated to prevent diaper dermatitis.
- Another form of dermatitis common in babies, cradle cap, is characterized by yellow-colored, greasy scales that appear on the scalp and sometimes the face. For babies with darker skin, cradle cap can appear as hypopigmented scaly patches.
- Cradle cap is most common in infants aged between 3 weeks and 12 months.
- The condition often resolves itself in time, so treatment is not always necessary. However, you can use an emollient cream or baby oil to loosen the scales and then remove them gently with a soft brush or toothbrush. You can also use mild, non-medicated baby shampoo in place of emollient in order to loosen the scales.
Bathing your baby
Bathing a newborn can be daunting for new parents. But once you understand what’s best for your baby and what precautions to take, it can be a bonding experience for both of you.
- 2-3 baths per week are sufficient to keep your baby’s skin clean and healthy. You should bathe them in 2-3 inches of warm — not hot — water.
- It is generally recommended to use plain water to wash your baby, but there are mild soaps specially formulated for your baby’s skin.
- Avoid regular soaps that could be harsh on your baby’s sensitive skin.
- Ensure you support the baby’s head and neck while in the bath and when taking them out of the bath.
- Never leave a baby unattended in the bath
- After washing, place them in a soft towel and dry them gently but thoroughly. Rashes can occur when the skin is left damp.
- Apply baby oil or mild lotion straight away.
Babies have delicate, sensitive skin that is susceptible to certain conditions such as rashes, diaper dermatitis, and cradle cap. These often occur in skin folds and areas that are covered by a diaper, where moisture and friction combine to cause irritation.
In general, you can prevent and alleviate skin irritation by using proper hygiene practices, avoiding harsh products, and ensuring your baby’s skin is kept clean and dry.
Broberg A, Faergemann J. Infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis and Pityrosporum ovale. Br J Dermatol. 1989 Mar;120(3):359-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.1989.tb04160.x. PMID: 2523723.
Burdall O, Willgress L, Goad N. Neonatal skincare: Developments in care to maintain neonatal barrier function and prevention of diaper dermatitis. Pediatr Dermatol. 2019 Jan;36(1):31-35. doi: 10.1111/pde.13714. Epub 2018 Dec 2. PMID: 30506880.
Shin, Helen T. “Diagnosis and Management of Diaper Dermatitis.” Pediatric Clinics of North America, vol. 61, no. 2, 2014, pp. 367–382., doi:10.1016/j.pcl.2013.11.009.