When our babies are born with their beautiful smooth skin, our natural instinct is to protect it.
But it can be difficult to determine the best approach with a range of conflicting information available, from old wives tales to new philosophies, advice from relatives, books, the internet – the list goes on!
Here we look at the best practices for taking care of baby skin.
According to Dermatologist, Associate Professor Greg Goodman, all babies should be considered as having sensitive skin, particularly during the first few months of their life.
One of the skin’s important functions is to act as a barrier.
Infantile skin does not function as well as adult skin in this role. This reduced barrier function increases the potential for the skin to develop irritation in response to whatever it is exposed to.
It also increases what is absorbed into the body via the skin, including any chemicals.
Finally, this poor barrier function means that babies also lose water and heat more easily through their skin.
These risks are greater particularly in premature infants, as well as infants with certain skin conditions such as eczema/dermatitis.
Dr Goodman says that in their best efforts to care for their baby’s skin, parents often over complicate things.
The best thing is to keep it simple, and not use too many products.
Bathing babies can dry their skin out. It is best to use lukewarm water, with either no soap at all, or a soap alternative such as soap-free wash or bath oil designed for sensitive skin.
Dr Goodman suggests bathing every second day, particularly in the first months of the baby’s life and applying a greasy moisturiser suited to sensitive skins.
Babies’ skin is sensitive to sunlight, and can burn easily.
As childhood sun exposure increases the risk of skin cancer later in life, protection is essential.
Sun avoidance, and physical protection with clothing, hat and sunglasses are important, says Dr Goodman.
When sun exposure is unavoidable, sunscreens should be used.
Sunscreens can irritate young babies’ skin so Dr Goodman recommends using a sunscreen milk or cream for sensitive skin, and those specifically designed for babies.
As with any new product, test the sunscreen on a small area of your baby’s skin to check for any reactions.
Common infant skin conditions.
There are several common rashes in infants.
Erythema toxic neonatorum affects up to 50% of babies, usually in the first week or two of life.
This consists of small red bumps and pimples spread over babies’ body and limbs. It cannot be prevented, but resolves spontaneously without treatment. “Miliaria (sweat rash) is also common in babies, due to the immaturity of their sweat ducts,” says Dr Goodman.
Minimising overheating can prevent this from occurring.
Babies can develop rashes relating to yeast, viral or bacterial infections.
These all look different in appearance, and it’s important to seek medical review for any new rash on your child’s skin.
Another common condition in young infants is dermatitis and eczema.
This can develop as red scaly areas anywhere on your baby’s skin, especially in areas of the body that are prone to overheating, such as the groin.
“The nappy area is especially prone to dermatitis, due multiple strains on this skin, including heat, as well as irritation from urine and faeces.
Cleansing the skin with plain water after every nappy change, and applying a barrier cream regularly to the area can reduce this tendency.