Whether your baby is 6 days, 6 weeks, or 6 months old, there’s always one constant: She has delicate skin. This means many of the bath and skin care products you use on your own body can cause rashes and irritation on her. But there’s a lot you can do to protect your little one from common skin problems. Here’s what to do to keep her skin soft, smooth, and safe.
Don’t bathe her every day. Two or three times a week is fine until she starts to crawl. If you wash her more often, it can dry out her skin. Instead, use a wet washcloth to regularly clean her diaper area, around her mouth, and anywhere she has skin folds (think armpit and groin folds, as well as double chins and dimpled thighs). When you do give her a bath, use a fragrance-free, dye-free baby wash.
Change her 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 her little bottom air-dry every now and then, so her skin gets a break from moisture. Put her in a crib with waterproof sheets or on a large towel on the floor while she’s diaper-free.
Deal with diaper rash. It’s best to prevent it in the first place. Keep her bottom as clean and dry as possible. You can also occasionally soak her diaper area with warm water between diaper changes. Put her 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 she does get diaper rash, use a diaper cream or ointment that has zinc oxide. This acts as a barrier between the poop and pee and her skin. Put it on thickly, like cake icing, after each change. It can also help to give her 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 her out of direct sunlight as much as possible. You can protect her from sun exposure by dressing her in sun-protective clothing like a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt, pants, and hat. If she’s 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 her 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 she gets 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 her 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 she gets it, always bathe her in lukewarm water. Gently apply a mild, fragrance-free cleanser to the rest of her skin (avoiding the areas with eczema), but don’t rub or scrub. Her bath should last only 5 to 10 minutes. As soon as you take her out, gently pat her dry, but leave some water on her skin so that it feels damp. Then, slather on her 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.