How to care for your baby’s skin may not have been something you gave much thought to while you were pregnant. However, babies often develop dry, flaky skin within a week or so following birth. This may be accompanied by a blotchy red rash (erythema toxicum which is usually harmless and requires no treatment) and can leave parents wondering firstly if this is something to worry about and secondly how they should best care for their new baby’s delicate skin.
In 2018, the Royal College of Midwives commissioned a review of the evidence on healthy newborn skincare. Here are some of the most useful findings:
Bathing – there is no evidence for the timing of the first bath but it should be delayed until the baby’s temperature has stabilised. Bathing young babies more than 3 times a week is not recommended. If cleansing products (including shampoo) are used, they should be pH balanced and free from sodium lauryl sulphate (the ingredient that makes products lather).
Nappy care – water only cleansing of the nappy area is still considered the gold standard. While not all wipes have been tested, it is fair to assume that water only wipes are probably a close second best. Emollient (simple moisturiser) or barrier cream are recommended to prevent and treat nappy rash.
Dry skin & massage – olive and sunflower oil have been tested in a number of clinical trials and are not recommended for the treatment or prevention of baby dry skin. Oils may alter young babies protective skin barrier. Babies genetically prone to eczema may be more vulnerable. Current findings leave us with an incomplete picture of the affect of using oils on newborn skin. A water-based fragrance free moisturiser is recommended for treatment and prevention of dry skin and for baby massage.
In my experience, babies (just like us adults) can react differently to the same product, so if something isn’t working for your baby, stop using it & seek advice. There are ongoing trials to find out which moisturisers are considered best for treating and preventing dry skin in babies. While we wait, here is a list of my skin care tips & some of my favourite products for young babies:
– Plain water (sorry to be boring!)
– Teaspoon of hydromol or cetraben ointment dissolved in the bath to treat dry skin/eczema.
– Cotton wool and water & allow baby some nappy free time if possible
– Water wipes
– Metanium treatment cream for red skin/nappy rash
(if baby’s nappy rash does not improve within 48 hours of using metanium it is worth checking the cause of the rash with your GP – it can sometimes be thrush which is usually easily treatable with a prescribed cream)
Dry skin & massage
– Cetraben cream/ointment
– Hydromol cream/ointment
– Baby Aveeno products
(It is worth knowing that ointments are more moisturising than creams, but they can leave the skin feeling sticky as they don’t soak in as quickly. For this reason they are a good choice for overnight.)
What about older babies?
Most babies who go on to develop very sensitive skin or eczema are showing signs by the time they are 4 months old. It is important to seek advice from medical professionals for babies with skin problems.
If your baby’s skin is looking happy and healthy this may be a time to try a new bath or massage product. Many parents enjoy baby massage with coconut or sunflower oil at this age. Introduce any new product slowly, watch for any sign of irritation and stop using if you have any concerns.
So, if you are a new parent, remember there is lots of time later for lovely smelling products if that’s your thing, but while your baby is very young they are more likely to have happy, healthy skin if you keep things simple. As your baby gets older you will learn more about their skin and what works best for them. This will help you to make choices that feel right for you, your baby and your family.
Good luck and enjoy!
Rebecca is a midwife, health visitor and mum. She runs Babyology Dorset to support new parents in Bournemouth, East Dorset & Ringwood through home visits and classes.