I have a confession: as a first-time mother, I find myself constantly worrying about my daughter’s well-being. And while I worry a bit too much, I take solace knowing that as a dermatologist in Boston my baby is at least getting the best possible skin care.
While all of us are familiar with the routine aspects of an infants’ progression (e.g., shots, weigh-ins, and teething), I’d like to take a moment to teach you about a very important element of infant health: taking good care of your young child’s skin.
By keeping a few basic principles in mind, it is possible to prevent common, but avoidable skin conditions like eczema and diaper dermatitis… and of course, to protect their skin from harmful sun damage!
It takes time for a baby’s skin to mature. When a baby is first born, his or her skin is thinner and more fragile than adult skin and requires some extra attention to avoid irritation. Bathing babies too frequently or with water that is too warm can contribute to dryness.
Most young babies do not need to be bathed daily and when cleaning their skin, consider using a gentle soap to wash only dirty areas. In truth, some babies don’t even require soap, especially on days when you’ve been fortunate to avoid the dreaded diaper blowout! I only bathe my little one about 2x-3 times per week on average.
After you bathe your child, it is very helpful to apply a moisturizer that is fragrance-free and designed for baby’s skin. This helps to trap moisture that keeps the skin soft. Petroleum jelly based products can be very helpful if you find that your baby’s skin is starting to become dry, red or irritated. If you find a problem area that appears to be a spreading rash, it is best to consult your pediatrician or dermatologist.
It is also important for products that may come into contact with your baby’s skin to have low amounts of fragrances, irritants, or allergens. Laundry detergents that are designed for babies or labeled as ‘free and clear’ are better choices than your normal household detergent. And when choosing soaps or moisturizers, fragrance-free and hypoallergenic options are better than products you might use on your own skin.
Diaper rash is a very common problem in children. The environment that a diaper creates around a baby’s skin is warm and moist, making skin more susceptible to break down and more permeable to irritating molecules that are present in dirty diapers. Irritation can cause a red, inflamed rash. Sometimes organisms such as yeast can appear and contribute to the irritation.
In order to prevent diaper dermatitis, keeping baby’s skin as dry as possible is key. This means changing wet diapers often and making sure that baby’s skin is dry prior to putting a diaper back on. In addition, using a wet cloth can be less irritating than some commercially available wipes. Applying a diaper cream that is made to create a barrier between your baby’s skin and his or her diaper can be very helpful. These products usually contain ingredients such as zinc oxide and can be applied with every diaper change.
For a diaper rash that does not improve, it is important to consult your doctor to make sure that there isn’t an infection that needs to be treated or another less common rash that requires a prescription medication or further management.
The American Academy of Dermatology states that the best sun protection for infants less than six months old is actually to avoid direct sun exposure by keeping them in the shade and dressed with wide-brimmed hats, long sleeves, pants and sunglasses. For young children over 6 months of age, the best sunscreens are those that contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as these are physical blockers of UV rays rather than chemical blockers that cannot be absorbed into babies’ thinner skin. We definitely want our children to enjoy the outdoors but without having the consequences of increased skin cancer risk down the road!
As mothers, we’ll always be prone to worrying. But by following these simple skin care tips, you can really put your mind at ease, do what is best for your baby’s skin and improve your child’s health!