Looking after your baby’s skin is no mean feat. From diaper rash and cradle cap through to eczema and even acne, there are many ways in which your baby can suffer with sensitive skin. Eczema, for example, is the most common inflammatory skin disease of childhood1 and it’s estimated that around 20 percent of children worldwide have some form of it.
The good news is that as babies’ skin develops during the first six months, most of their skin concerns naturally disappear on their own. So, our first piece of important advice is to avoid the urge to ‘help’ by picking at spots or treating blemishes with harsh, alcohol-fueled products. This will do nothing but make things a million times worse. If your baby’s skin is really suffering, however, and you’re not sure why or how to help, you should always seek help from a specialist.
In the meantime, it pays to do the best you can for your little munchkin with the right skincare knowledge and the gentlest of baby products. And that’s where we come in.
Why Is Babies’ Skin So Sensitive?
Even though skin essentially has the same structure – whatever your age – baby skin doesn’t fully develop until around 24 months. So, what are the main differences while it’s going through this developmental stage?
1. Baby Skin Is Thinner
While plump, fresh and oh-so-squeezable, baby skin is much thinner than adult skin. It also lacks a natural moisturizing factor (NMF), has fewer skin cells and contains even fewer elastic fibers – bundles of protein that provide elasticity and resilience to the skin.
What does all this mean? Well, primarily it makes your baby’s skin less able to protect itself and more susceptible to absorbing substances such as water, germs, chemicals and other environmental or lifestyle stressors. Infants also have a higher body surface area to weight ratio than adults2 which heightens this rate of absorption even further.
It also figures that what goes in this quickly, can also come out at the same rate, which means babies are less able to retain moisture to keep their skin hydrated.
“Baby skin is reportedly three to five times thinner than adult skin which means it loses moisture twice as fast,” explains David A. Mays, PharmD, MBA.
2. Baby Skin Has A Different pH Level
Unlike adult skin which has a slightly acidic pH level of around 5.7, babies are born with an average skin pH of 7, which is neutral. This makes it susceptible to irritation from skincare products which are naturally formulated to be alkaline.
3. Baby Skin Contains Less Melanin
Finally, baby skin contains a much lower concentration of melanin compared to adult skin. Melanin is a term used to describe the group of natural pigments produced by cells called melanocytes. It’s basically what gives skin, hair and eyes their color. Melanin also helps protect skin from UV damage which is why baby skin is so much more vulnerable to overexposure from the sun than grown-up skin.
The Most Important Skincare Tips For Baby’s Skin
It’s fair to say, then, that babies’ thinner, delicate, more vulnerable skin needs much more care and attention than yours – especially during their first two years of life.
So, herein, ten important tips for caring for your baby’s skin.
1. Be BabySafe, Every Time
This might be obvious, but the most important thing to remember is to never use your own bath, body, skin or hair products on your infant. End of. Adult products are simply not formulated to be tolerated by baby’s delicate, permeable skin.
“Instead, ensure you choose products that are proven safe and effective for use on babies and small children,” says David A. Mays, PharmD, MBA.
An easy way to do this is to only ever buy products that have been deemed BabySafe by us. This means they’re free of the most common allergy-causing ingredients (fragrances, preservatives, topical antiobiotics, sunscreens and metals), plus surfactants like cocamidopropyl betaine and other hormone-altering ingredients.
2. Patch Test All New Products First
Whenever you switch up your baby’s skincare products, always test a small amount on their forearm first, before applying it all over. Leave it on for 24 hours and if you don’t see anything unusual – redness, scaling, bumps or a rash – you should be fine to continue using it as normal.
Any noticeable changes in their skin, however, could be signs of an allergic reaction, so stop using the product immediately and contact your healthcare provider for further advice.
3. Get Into A Regular Bathtime Routine
Bathtime is one of the most vital times of the day for your baby and, according to Dr. Jodi A Mindell, Associate Director of the Sleep Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Chair of the Pediatric Sleep Council, getting into a consistent routine by bathing baby before bed is key for helping them maintain a good night’s sleep.
“Implementing a bedtime routine for baby is an important building block to getting a good night’s sleep,” she explains.
“A good bedtime routine is three or four activities that both you and your baby enjoy, including things like a bath, massage, stories, cuddles and lullabies. The more nights a week that babies have a consistent bedtime routine, the better they will sleep.”
This being said, too-frequent bathing can cause moisture loss in a baby’s delicate skin which will make it more susceptible to irritations, rashes and infections.
“For babies in which a bath is not appropriate every day, washing up on those nights is a great substitute,” Dr. Mindell adds.
The Mayo Clinic, a non-profit academic medical center committed to clinical practice, education and research recommends three times a week until your baby becomes more mobile. Also, ensure baby’s bath water is lukewarm never scorching hot (test it with your elbow), and keep bathtime fairly short (five minutes is plenty), using pH-neutral shampoos and soaps that have been specifically formulated for infants and have the BabySafe stamp of approval. One of our favorites is VaniCream Gentle Wash for Baby which is 100 percent SkinSafe and ideal for super-sensitive skin.
4. Spot Clean Those Folds
While full-on daily bathing is not vital, cleaning their face and those cute little skin folds is. Spit-up, milk, urine and sweat can cause any number of skin issues like peeling, itching and redness if they’re not dealt with. Always keep a soft burp cloth on hand to gently dab away drool from your baby’s mouth, chin and neck, and make sure you clean and dry all of baby’s nooks and crannies with a washcloth regularly – at least twice a day and especially before bed. It’s all about that routine, remember?
Speaking of necks, don’t forget to clean neck folds. Yes, they’re tricky to get to, but moisture can easily get trapped in there which will cause a nasty rash if not cleaned and dried on the fly. Use fragrance-free wipes while you’re out and about, and when you’re at home, clean your baby’s neck more thoroughly with a clean, damp washcloth plus a gentle, fragrance-free soap, if necessary. Try VaniCream Gentle Wash for Baby. You won’t be disappointed.
5. To Shampoo or Not to Shampoo?
Washing baby’s hair at bathtime can be a very therapeutic treat for your little one, but, unless your baby is suffering with cradle cap, it only becomes necessary at around two months. Cradle cap should naturally go away on its own, but washing baby’s hair once a day with a mild baby shampoo such as Aveeno Baby Organic Harvest Wash and Shampoo will help in the meantime. Just remember to rinse thoroughly with clean, lukewarm water. You can also try brushing the scalp gently with a soft brush to help remove loose skin.
When it comes to choosing haircare products for your infant, as with all products, go fragrance-free and stick with BabySafe options that are free of irritation-causing allergens. Also, don’t believe everything you read about tear-free shampoos containing numbing agents such as novocaine or lidocaine. They don’t.
“Tear-free shampoos are formulated to not cause irritation when used around the eyes, but many stories online state that baby shampoo contains a numbing agent,” says David A. Mays, PharmD, MBA.
“This is simply not true,” he adds.
Think about it: if this was a proven fact, wouldn’t such shampoos cause numbing to your hands just as much as your baby’s eyes? Exactly. Instead, tear-free shampoos are siply formulated in a way that excludes harsh ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate that are known to cause irritation to the eyes3. Nothing more, nothing less.
6. Gentle Moisturizing Is Key
Newborns often have dry, peeling skin, but don’t worry, this is normal due to their undeveloped protective barrier which can’t efficiently retain water. To help avoid and treat dry skin, apply a gentle moisturizing lotion after bath time when baby’s skin is still slightly damp. You could also invest in a humidifier for your baby’s bedroom to help stop the air from further drying out his or her skin.
“Some people claim that a baby’s skin doesn’t need much attention, but clinical data has shown over and over again that protecting a baby’s skin from day one with a good moisturizer, gentle cleansing and supportive care can decrease your baby’s chances of developing eczema and atopic skin,” explains David A. Mays, PharmD, MBA.
Choose moisturizing lotions or creams that are allergen-free and better yet, look for the BabySafe seal of approval on any product you buy. Good options are Eucerin Baby Lotion and Cetaphil Baby Eczema Soothing Lotion. If you suspect your little one may be suffering with eczema, however, always get them checked out by their healthcare provider.
7. Prewash All New Clothes & Bedding
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), you should always wash new baby clothes, blankets and bed sheets before using them for the first time. How so? Because any number of irritation-causing chemicals are left on the surface of fabrics from the manufacturing, packaging and transportation processes.
As with skincare, when it comes to ingredients, less is always more, so look for gentle detergents that are fragrance-, dye- and paraben-free such as Babyganics Baby Laundry Detergent.
8. Keep Babies Out Of The Sun, Period
As we already mentioned, baby skin contains much less melanin that adult skin which means sun damage is even more serious business for babies than it is for the rest of us more mature folk. The US Food & Drugs Administration (FDA) however, does not recommend using sunscreen on infants below the age of six months, so instead keep them out of the sun at all times.
“The best way to protect babies from the sun is to keep them in the shade as much as possible. In addition, dress your baby in protective clothing, a hat with a brim and sunglasses,” recommends the Mayo Clinic.
After six months, you should remain vigilant and keep infants out of the sun, but you can also start protecting their skin with a mineral-based sunscreen containing FDA-approved ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide which are super-gentle on the skin. Again, look for sensitive skin formulations that don’t contain hundreds of chemicals. A great option is Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen for Baby SPF 30+.
9. Dealing With The Dreaded Diaper Rash
Diaper rashes (nasty red skin around the diaper area) usually occur if diapers are too tight or left on for too long when wet, so prevention is always better than cure for this one. The tricks are to change every diaper as soon as it’s wet or soiled, clean and dry the skin thoroughly but gently, then keep your baby’s booty open to the fresh air for as long as possible before putting a new diaper on. Applying a gentle diaper cream such as La Petite Crème Organic Diaper Cream is also a good preventative measure between every single change.
The good news is that normal diaper rashes aren’t usually serious and should disappear within a few days, but f this doesn’t happen, you could be dealing with something else like a yeast diaper rash which may need extra help. If you have concerns about your little one’s rash or if they have a fever, call your baby’s healthcare provide immediately.
10. Finally, Remember ‘Natural’ Isn’t Always Best
Bearing in mind the FDA has no regulations for the terms ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ in cosmetics, a certain amount of common sense has to be taken when buying into any kind of natural skincare. More importantly, products that are formulated with natural or organic ingredients are not guaranteed to be 100 percent suitable for baby’s skin.
“Natural products can be more unstable, and food grade-only ingredients may expose baby’s skin to other unwanted irritants,” says David A. Mays, PharmD, MBA.
To be defined as food grade, a substance must be safe for consumption, but this does not necessarily mean it’s a smart choice to apply it topically to the skin – whether it be your baby’s or your own.
Care should also be taken with essential oils. They should never be used on babies younger than three months old, according to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians and even after this age, we recommend you err on the side of caution. Lavender and tea tree oils, for example have the potential to interfere with the endocrine (hormone) system while tangerine, bergamot and grapefruit have been linked to contact dermatitis.
It’s confusing business, right? Then make sure everything you put on or near your baby’s skin and hair is free of all the most common allergens and irritants by only ever choosing BabySafe products. It really is the only way to give you complete confidence.