We all want baby-soft, clear skin, but even babies often aren’t that lucky, says Joshua Fox, MD, Long Island dermatologist and founder of Advanced Dermatology and The Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery. “Skin conditions are common in newborns, whose skin can be very sensitive.” The most common skin ailments, according to Dr. Fox are diaper rash, cradle cap, flaky skin and infant acne.
“These conditions aren’t serious and typically go away on their own, but they can be uncomfortable for babies – and for worried parents,” says Dr. Fox. “I always advise parents to talk to a doctor if a skin condition persists for several days without improving, or if it worsens.”
Wet, soiled diapers that rub against delicate baby skin and misuse or overuse of baby creams, lotions, oils, and powders are the culprits behind diaper rash, a red, inflamed rash that affects most babies at least once during their infancy. It can also be a recurrent problem for newborns and can become so severe that open, blistering sores develop on babies’ thighs, abdomens, and buttocks. Wet nappies, as the British call them, create a humid, moist environment that makes babies’ bottoms susceptible to irritation and inflammation.
The solution: “Change diapers frequently,” says Dr. Fox, “and gently cleanse – don’t rub – the baby’s buttocks with a warm, wet washcloth. Then apply a protective cream that contains zinc oxide to provide a barrier against urine and feces.” (Zinc oxide creams are available without a prescription.) Avoid premoistened baby wipes and products that contain fragrances or alcohol, which may actually make diaper rash worse rather than better because they may irritate a baby’s delicate skin. Also, after washing the baby’s bottom, allow the buttocks to air dry for a few minutes before putting on a new diaper.
Cradle cap (or “seborrheic dermatitis,” as it is known medically) is a condition that causes a red, scaly, itchy rash on the scalp. It’s not totally clear what causes cradle cap, but a yeast-like or fungal organism may be involved. It usually clears by itself by 8 to 12 months of age, says Dr. Fox.
Mild cases can be treated with a baby shampoo. “Gently shampoo the scalp to remove some of the scales,” he advises. “You can also use a soft brush while shampooing or after putting some mineral oil on the scalp to lift the scales.” Do not rub hard as you may exacerbate the problem.
If the condition is widespread or severe, parents should ask their pediatrician or a dermatologist to recommend an antiseborrheic shampoo, as well as corticosteroid, sulfer, and sulfacetamide and/or antifungal products depending on how the rash looks.
Like adults, some babies may suffer from dry, flakey skin, particularly in the folds of the skin, like behind the knees and elbows. “This condition is usually temporary and will go away on its own,” notes Dr. Fox, particularly if it’s due to dry, cold weather.
To make your baby more comfortable, apply an unscented baby moisturizer to the affected area. Don’t bathe your child daily, and when you do, make baths short (and sweet!). Also, try to utilize less soap, body wash or cleansers as they are irritating and exacerbate the problem. If it does not resolve see a dermatologist.
In the first few weeks after delivery, many babies, particularly boys, will develop red pimples and whiteheads on the cheeks and nose due to the high levels of male hormones (called androgens) circulating in their bodies. These hormones prompt oil production to the baby’s immature oil glands, leading to the growth of bacteria and the development of acne.
“As the weeks pass, androgen levels decline and infant acne usually goes away,” Dr. Fox explains. “If acne persists or is severe, a doctor can prescribe standard anti-acne drugs for babies, including benzoyl peroxide and possibly even topical or oral antibiotics.”