Taking the Mystery out of Infant Skin Care

Back in the heyday of soap operas, a lot of commercial airtime was devoted to cleaning and skincare products, with babies (or, more properly, the people caring for them) constituting the target audience.  Although medications have taken over a lot of ad time, there’s still a lot put out there by the makers of multiple products claiming to be best for baby’s skin.

We interrupt these ads to bring you a special bulletin: infant skin care is really not that difficult.  It all really involves three major principles:  (1) when it comes to using baby skin products, often less is better; (2) when caring for your little one’s skin, pay attention to the rest of her; (3) your choice of products may depend on where you live.  Let’s look at things in more detail.

Bath Time

Young infants, while at a higher risk for infection than older children, generally have an intact skin barrier that isn’t exposed to a lot of outside stress.  Because of this, it isn’t really necessary to bathe them daily.  In fact, doing so may dry out their skin and actually leave them more vulnerable to problems.  Even the bath right after birth is being delayed a day or so in some centers.

When you do bathe him, use a mild soap; most designed for young infants are fine, but it’s good to look on the label for one with as few additives as possible (for example, a fragrance shouldn’t be necessary).  You won’t need to work up a huge lather, and avoiding doing this will help keep soap out of your baby’s eyes.

There actually are not too many more “do’s” to bathing.  Most pediatricians would concentrate more on the “don’t’s”:

  • DON’T get the umbilical cord (belly button) area wet in a young infant. It’s the dryness that will help it heal without infection.  For circumcised male infants, check with your provider (the obstetrician or pediatrician who did the circumcision) on how best to care for that area during bathtime.
  • DON’T use water that’s too hot or too cold. Young babies don’t have great temperature regulation, and excessive cold can stress the baby.  Since water over 125 degrees can burn your young one’s skin, now is a really good time to check and adjust your hot water temperature.
  • DON’T EVER leave a baby unattended in a bath, even for seconds. Let the phone go to voice mail, or if you must answer it, take her with you.

The Moisturizing Game

Not every baby needs a moisturizer, but many parents prefer to use one, and it’s probably a good idea during cold, dry weather.  You want to moisturize right after bathing, if possible, to lock in the moisture that’s present due to the bath.  As with bath soap, use a moisturizer with a minimum of extra ingredients, and watch for any unusual reactions.  An additional important consideration is that thicker products are a little better to use if your baby is prone to dry skin, especially in cold, dry climates.

Some Skin Care Miscellany

Diaper rash.  Avoiding diaper rash is usually a matter of keeping the area as dry as possible; the diaper area is one place where some extra steps to keep things clean pays off.  You may just want to regularly wipe with water.  Baby wipes are OK for most babies, but since some do react with skin irritation, watch the area closely for rash. A switch to a wet cloth will often improve things.

If your little one is prone to diaper rash, a good, thick layer of commercial diaper cream is a good idea.  The goal here is to keep baby’s lower-end products off the skin.  Any rash that doesn’t go away in a few days with this type of treatment should be discussed with his provider.

Sunblock.  Although the use of sunblock in infants is not totally without controversy due to the chemicals that most preparations contain, the general thinking of many pediatricians is that skin damage due to sun exposure is riskier that limited use of a baby preparation.  Use a light layer of long-sleeve clothing when possible, and have a snazzy hat or bonnet on your baby’s head.  Then consider using small amounts of sunblock on whatever areas are exposed.

Rashes and marks.  A full discussion of baby rashes is beyond the scope of this blog, so I will just mention a couple of conditions that impact skin care.  Eczema is an inflammatory (allergic-type) condition of the skin that often shows up early in infancy.  There are variety of treatments used to control it, but your provider will probably put special emphasis on using a moisturizer.  Hemangiomas are usually reddish marks that show up in infants and may be raised or flat.  Many go away as children age; in the meantime, your provider may ask you to take special care with your little one’s skin if there’s a hemangioma in the diaper area or on the face, or if it is particularly large.  In many cases, a dermatologist is consulted to help with the treatment.

Hopefully you’ve read all this and found that you are doing the right thing after all.  As delicate as babies seem to be, skin care really isn’t all that complicated.  Follow a few principles and enjoy bath and skin-care time.  After all, it’s a great time to get up close and personal with him.

Stan Sack
Dr. Stan Sack has 29 years’ experience as a primary care pediatrician in Massachusetts and Florida. A medical writer since 2015, he enjoys blogging on topics that are on parents’ minds but are covered less often in books and on websites. He lives in the Florida Keys with his family and enjoys healthy cooking, fitness activities and singing in his spare time.

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