What to Know About Diaper Rash Creams

Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on May 03, 2022

Diaper rash is the most common skin problem in babies. Wetness and friction are the most frequent causes of this rash and seem unavoidable. To protect your baby's delicate skin, diaper rash creams are valuable. These creams can both prevent and cure diaper rash when used correctly.

What Is a Diaper Rash?

A rash in the area covered by a diaper is called a diaper rash. It can happen to anyone but is most commonly seen in babies. A diaper rash makes your baby's skin red, tender, and scaly. It is a common condition — most babies will have a diaper rash at some time. Most often, it is easy to combat with some precautions and changes to the diapering routine.

If the rash gets severe, it can cause pimples, blisters, or other sores on your baby's skin. Bright red skin, or swollen skin, is a sign of infection.

Diaper Rash Causes

The chief causes of diaper rash are moisture and friction. Urine and poop can irritate and damage the skin. Diaper rashes are more common when your baby is pooping frequently. Diarrhea and diaper rash often happen together. 

Allergies can also cause diaper rash. Your baby may be sensitive to detergents, dyes in the diapers, baby wipes, soaps, or any other product you're using. If you think an allergy is causing the rash, get plain white diapers without any dyes, and use plain water with a washcloth for cleaning.

Most rashes will heal when you change your diapering routine. A diaper rash that doesn't clear up and lasts for a long time could be a fungal infection. A yeast called Candida grows in moist, warm areas, conditions produced by watertight diapers. This rash is red, slightly raised, and can spread beyond the diaper area. This infection often happens after you or your baby have taken antibiotics.

Diaper Rash Cream

These creams prevent diaper rashes using the barrier method. They form a barrier on the skin that keeps urine and poop from touching and damaging it.

Most diaper creams are a paste or cream containing zinc oxide. This substance forms a waterproof layer on the skin. Zinc oxide also improves skin healing.

White petroleum jelly (petrolatum) is also effective as diaper cream. Other barrier agents are cod liver oil, dimethicone, and lanolin.

You should look for products with these ingredients and make sure they're fragrance-free. Fragrances can irritate a baby's skin.

Less commonly, diaper rash creams contain:

  • Calendula. A plant product traditionally used for skin disorders. It is effective at healing diaper rash.
  • Bentonite. A clay containing aluminum phyllosilicate. It absorbs several times its own weight in water and can heal diaper rash.
  • Corticosteroids. Your physician may prescribe a corticosteroid-containing ointment if the inflammation is severe. Hydrocortisone and hydrocortisone acetate are considered safe for babies.
  • Nystatin or Clotrimazole. These are medicines to treat fungal skin infections. A large proportion of babies with diaper rash have a fungal infection. These medicines are effective and safe.

Read the label when buying a diaper cream. Avoid those that contain boric acid, camphor, compound of benzoin tincture, methyl salicylate, or phenol. Your baby doesn't need these chemicals, and they can harm the skin.

How to Use Diaper Creams

Diaper creams are used to prevent or cure a diaper rash. Correct use is important to get the most benefit:

  • Always apply the diaper cream to dry skin. It'll keep moisture off the skin. If you apply the cream to wet skin, it'll trap the moisture on your baby's skin.
  • Don't rub the diaper cream into the skin. Gently spread a thick layer. 
  • Don't wash it off at every diaper change. Once a day at night is enough.

How to Avoid Diaper Rash

That red, angry-looking skin on your baby's little bottom can make them miserable. Follow these steps to avoid it:

  • Don't let your baby be dirty or wet for long. Change diapers frequently. Poop and urine can damage a baby's delicate skin. Check often, and change the diaper even if it's only wet. 
  • Clean the area gently. Use wet wipes or water and a washcloth to dab your baby clean. If wiping makes your baby cry, try cleaning with a squirt bottle. Use plain water — avoid alcohol and fragrances.
  • Keep the area dry. After cleaning, pat dry with a soft cloth. Leave your baby diaper-free for a while so that their skin gets a chance to dry in air. 
  • If using diapers with adhesive tabs, make sure they don't stick to your baby's skin.
  • Always put a new diaper on clean, dry skin.
  • Apply a diaper cream a few times a day. If your baby has sensitive skin, you can apply it at every diaper change.

If you're using washable cloth diapers instead of disposables:

  • Wash cloth diapers in hot water to kill germs. 
  • Run an extra rinse cycle to completely remove detergents from the diapers. 
  • Don't use fabric softeners or dryer sheets.
  • Skip the plastic pants that fit over diapers. They increase heat and moisture inside, helping germs to grow.

How to Treat Diaper Rash

Be gentle with a diaper rash. Instead of wipes, use a plain soft cloth and water. Avoid alcohol and other cleansers that can hurt your baby.

Never scrub the rash. Avoid too much cleaning. If the diaper is only wet, pat the area dry, reapply diaper cream, and put a fresh diaper on.

Keeping the diaper area clean and dry is key. Try leaving the diaper off for a few hours each day to let your baby's skin breathe. You'll need waterproof sheets in the crib, or a large towel on the floor.

If the rash doesn't get well in a few days, visit your pediatrician. They may prescribe some special medicines and ointments. Use them exactly as prescribed. Especially with steroid creams, do not apply for more days than told.

Can a Diaper Rash Be Serious?

Diaper rashes are usually just superficial damage to your baby's skin. But this rash can get infected and cause serious disease. If your baby is less than 6 weeks old, keep an especially careful eye on the rash. In babies of any age, watch for these signs:

  • The rash doesn't get better after many days of careful home measures.
  • You can see blisters or pus-filled boils.
  • The rash area is bleeding.
  • The rash is spreading beyond the diaper area.
  • Your baby has a fever.
  • Your baby seems sick.

Visit your pediatrician if your baby shows any signs that the diaper rash is out of the ordinary.

Show Sources

American Academy of Dermatology: "How to Treat Diaper Rash."
American Academy of Family Physicians: "Diaper Rash."
Indian Journal of Medical Research: "Comparing the effects of Bentonite & Calendula on the improvement of infantile diaper dermatitis: A randomized controlled trial."
JAMA Pediatrics: "Characterization of Diaper Dermatitis in the United States."
Nemours Children's Health: "What is Diaper Rash?"
Society for Pediatric Dermatology: "What is diaper rash?"

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