Whether your baby is 6 days, 6 weeks, or 6 months old, there’s always one constant: They have delicate skin. This means many of the bath and skin care products you use on your own body can cause rashes and irritation on them. But there’s a lot you can do to protect your little one from common skin problems. Here’s what to do to keep their skin soft, smooth, and safe.
Don’t bathe them every day. Two or three times a week is fine until they start to crawl. If you wash them more often, it can dry out their skin. Instead, use a wet washcloth to regularly clean their diaper area, around their mouth, and anywhere they have skin folds (think armpit and groin folds, as well as double chins and dimpled thighs). When you do give them a bath, use a fragrance-free, dye-free baby wash.
Change their diaper often. Babies should get a fresh diaper every 2 to 4 hours, or right after they poop. You don’t need fancy diaper wipes: tap water and cotton balls or a soft cloth work fine for the basic wet diaper. For poopy ones, though, you may want wipes to do a thorough cleanup. Choose those that are hypoallergenic and don’t have lanolin or alcohol. It’s also a good idea to let their little bottom air-dry every now and then, so their skin gets a break from moisture. Put them in a crib with waterproof sheets or on a large towel on the floor while they are diaper-free.
Deal with diaper rash. It’s best to prevent it in the first place. Keep their bottom as clean and dry as possible. You can also occasionally soak their diaper area with warm water between diaper changes. Put their diaper on loosely so it doesn’t chafe, and change it every 2 hours or so or after every poop. If you use cloth diapers, run an extra rinse cycle after you wash them to make sure you get rid of any detergent. You should also avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets.
If they do get diaper rash, use a diaper cream or ointment that has zinc oxide. This acts as a barrier between the poop and pee and their skin. Put it on thickly, like cake icing, after each change. It can also help to give them some diaper-free time every day. If the diaper rash doesn’t go away within 2 to 3 days or seems to get worse, call your doctor.
Seek the shade. If your baby is younger than 6 months, keep them out of direct sunlight as much as possible. You can protect them from sun exposure by dressing them in sun-protective clothing like a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt, pants, and hat. If they are older than 6 months, put on a small amount of a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Look for a sunscreen that has titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which is less likely to irritate their skin and eyes than those that have ingredients such as avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone.
Go easy on moisturizers. It’s normal for newborns to have areas of dry skin. They usually get better on their own. If it’s so dry that it splits, you can put petroleum jelly on the area. As they get older, you can use lotions that are free of fragrances and dyes. But read the label carefully: ”Unscented” isn’t the same as “fragrance-free” -- products labeled “unscented” can still have a fragrance, which may irritate your baby’s skin.
Keep an eye out for skin conditions. When your baby is about a month old, you may see some scaling and redness on their scalp. This is called cradle cap. It’s a common rash and will slowly go away on its own. You can help get rid of it by washing your baby’s hair several times a week with a mild baby shampoo. If your doctor says it’s OK, you can also apply an over-the counter-cortisone cream. Some parents use petroleum jelly. But baby oil isn’t helpful because it allows scales to build up on the scalp.
Another skin problem you may see as your little one gets older is eczema, a condition that makes skin itchy and inflamed. If they get it, always bathe them in lukewarm water. Gently apply a mild, fragrance-free cleanser to the rest of their skin (avoiding the areas with eczema), but don’t rub or scrub. Their bath should last only 5 to 10 minutes. As soon as you take them out, gently pat them dry, but leave some water on their skin so that it feels damp. Then, slather on their regular moisturizer, but make sure it’s in the form of a cream or ointment, not a lotion. This is one of the best treatments for eczema, because it helps prevent a baby’s skin from losing water, which can make symptoms worse.