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The Skinny on Infant Skin

Three rules for caring for baby’s delicate skin.

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New parents often expect baby’s skin to be perfect. But an infant’s skin is easily irritated, and rashes during the first 12 months are more of a rule than an exception. The good news? Babies don’t need complicated skin care routines. Keep baby’s skin healthy with a little tender loving care—and a lot of gentle moisturizer.

Rule #1: Keep it clean.

Daily showers are a must for many adults, but the jury’s still out on whether baby needs a bath daily. “In my experience, giving a bath daily is fine, as long as the water is warm to lukewarm,” says Kanwaljit Brar, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at National Jewish Health. “Soap doesn’t need to be used every day, except on visibly soiled areas of skin.”

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Because of Colorado’s dry air, however, some doctors advise against giving babies a daily bath. “In Colorado, dry skin is a big deal,” says Melissa Biewenga, M.D., a Kaiser family physician. She says that as long as you are keeping the diaper area clean and dry, bathing every other day is probably enough.

“Many parents I talk to don’t know that water itself can be really drying, especially if it’s too hot,” Biewenga says. “Some parents do quick ‘butt baths’ daily, and save full baths for every other day.”

Rule #2: Moisturize daily.

Both Brar and Biewenga say daily moisturizing of baby’s skin is a must. “After baths, you need to lock in moisture by applying a thick layer of lotion while baby’s skin is still damp,” says Biewenga.

To seal the skin, use a gentle, emollient moisturizer. Beware of products marketed for babies, as many of these products can actually make baby’s skin worse.

“The stuff you find in the store often smells really good, so it’s tempting to buy those products,” says Biewenga. “But many babies are sensitive to fragrances and other additives these products contain.”

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Brar agrees: “Look for bland products that are fragrance-free and dye-free.” She recommends using Vaseline or even sunflower oil, as it’s non-irritating and can provide a protective layer of moisture that your baby needs.

Rule #3: When a rash appears, don’t panic.

“Rashes are the biggest thing I see in my practice, and though it’s frustrating for many parents to hear, we’re not always sure what causes them,” Biewenga says. “Most often, we treat rashes by taking away common irritants, such as products with fragrances.”

Thankfully, many of the most common rashes eventually go away with minimal treatment.

“Conditions such as cradle cap, neonatal acne, and erythema toxicum neonatorum can look scary, but they fall under the category of benign infant rashes,” Brar says.

Medical treatment may be necessary for some rashes, particularly in cases of:

Should a stubborn rash appear, work with your pediatrician to rule out more serious conditions and find the best treatment options.

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Keeping your baby clean, dry, and moisturized at home and protected when you’re out and about is the best way to ensure optimal skin health.

Preventing Eczema

Recent studies have shown that moisturizing your baby’s skin is more important than we once thought. “Many parents don’t know that by moisturizing your baby daily you can actually prevent the development of eczema,” says Brar.

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a common skin condition that affects approximately 17.8 million Americans, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. It’s chronic and inflammatory, and can appear as thick, scaly pink to red lesions. It can present with asthma and allergies, and it’s estimated that 30 percent of children with eczema develop asthma later in life.

Protecting Baby’s Skin from Sun

Keeping your baby’s skin protected from the sun is mostly about avoidance. After all, the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend the use of SPF on infants under the age of six months. For a busy mom of three like Biewenga, with active, older kids, keeping her baby out of the sun 100 percent of the time is unrealistic.

“When you live in a really sunny place, it’s hard to avoid the sun completely,” she says. “We sit in the shade as much as possible, and I protect her skin with layers and hats. But I talked to my pediatrician, and together we decided that applying some sunblock to her face was better than risking a sunburn.”

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