Baby skin care is big business. On Amazon alone, there are 4,237 products in the baby skin care category! Before stocking up on bottom balm and lavender baby wash or selecting skin care “essentials” for your baby registry, I asked leading pediatric dermatologists, members of the Society for Pediatric Dermatology, to weigh in on whether babies really need skin care products.
And, if so, which ones measure up?
We also cover the best diaper rash ointment, the best time to moisture, the best baby wipes and diapers for your baby’s skin and how to deal with cradle cap.
Maybe you were wondering about all this yourself. Here’s the skinny on baby skin care.
Do babies need skin care products?
“All babies certainly need a gentle wash,” says Lacey L. Kruse, MD, FAAD, attending physician at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and assistant professor of Pediatrics and Dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. Dr. Kruse is also mom to Jonah, 2, and Nolan, 3 1/2.
Dr. Kruse recommends these baby washes for bath time:
“They’re very gentle and don’t strip the natural oils from our skin that keep it moist and protected, and they do a good job of getting what you need cleaned off,” Dr. Kruse says.
What about moisturizer—do all babies need it?
Moisturizer is a definite yes for babies prone to dry skin or eczema–an inflammatory skin condition that causes itchy, red and dry skin. One in five or 17 percent of all babies have eczema. As you may know, eczema is a risk factor for peanut allergy. For these babies, Dr. Kruse recommends Vasoline (a.k.a. petroleum jelly) or Aquaphor, which is similar to Vasoline/petroleum jelly.
“Vasoline is one of the best moisturizers there is,” she says, or a nonfragranced, thick, white cream moisturizer, which helps prevent the skin’s natural moisture from evaporating. “Lotion is better than nothing, but a cream is better than a lotion.”
Dr. Kruse’s top moisturizer picks include:
Cetaphil cream (not the baby line)
CeraVe Baby Moisturizing Lotion; it’s not as thick the Cerave cream
Best time to moisturize: “Within three minutes of getting out of the bath or shower for older kids,” Dr. Kruse says. After your baby’s bath, pat her dry and then apply moisturizer. “A little bit of moisture seeps into the skin during the bath. Moisturizer helps seal in that moisture,” Dr. Kruse says.
After-bath moisturizing is all your baby needs. You don’t need to apply moisturizer daily if your baby doesn’t have a bath–or at other times of the day.
If your baby doesn’t have dry skin or eczema, recent studies show that a bath then a moisturizing may still have a potential benefit: It may help prevent eczema.
But moisturizing is a must for your baby skin care routine if your baby has eczema or is prone to it. “For many babies with eczema, applying moisturizer often will keep it under control. If and when eczema flares up again, prescription or over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication (cortisone) typically clear it up quickly,” Dr. Kruse says.
How often do babies need a bath?
You don’t need to give your baby a bath every day. “For many babies, a few times per week or every other day is enough,” Dr. Kruse says. For babies with dry skin, keep the bath short—five to 10 minutes. Use warm, not hot, water, then moisturize after you’ve patted your baby dry within that three minute deadline.
Do babies need “baby” skin care products?
No. In fact, “’baby’ skin care products are often the products we don’t recommend because they tend to be heavily perfumed to smell like baby,” Dr. Kruse says. Fragrance can be irritating for kids with sensitive skin or prone to eczema. She recommends avoiding a skin care brand’s baby line if it’s heavily fragranced. Cetaphil’s baby line falls into this category, she says.
“It’s fine for the average baby,” Dr. Kruse says. But if your baby has eczema, “I like Cetaphil’s nonfragranced cream much better.”
What about “organic” or “natural” baby skin care products?
“Look for skin care products that are gentle for baby. ‘Natural,’ ‘herbal’ and ‘organic’” doesn’t necessarily equate to gentle,” says Jennifer Sorrell, MD, FAAP, FAAD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology and pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine. Lavender, for example, sounds soothing, doesn’t it? So does calendula. “But it doesn’t mean they’re the most gentle products for baby’s skin,” Dr. Sorrell says. “I have my parents avoid skin care products with additives, such as lavender and calendula because they’re potential irritants for babies with eczema or sensitive skin.” The same goes for skin care products with aloe.
Dr. Kruse agrees. “A lot of the plant and food extracts in organic products can be irritating for kids with sensitive skin or eczema,” she says.
Let’s talk diaper rash. What’s your dream diaper rash cream?
“My favorite diaper rash ointments have zinc oxide as the active ingredient,” Dr. Sorrell says. It can also contain petroleum jelly or mineral oil. But steer clear of zinc oxide ointments with fragrance or lots of additional ingredients, such as vitamin E (a potential irritant) or herbal extracts. “It’s important to read the label and get something very bland,” she says.
Diaper rash creams create a protective barrier between the skin and the diaper so that urine and stool aren’t in close contact with the skin, which can be irritating. Diaper rash ointment creates a seal on the skin to keep that stuff from touching it. Change diapers as often as necessary and change poopy diapers asap. Kind in mind that that “everything that happens in the diaper is irritating–urine, stool, wipes, and rarely, even the diapers themselves,” Dr. Kruse says.
Do all babies need diaper rash ointment?
It’s good to use diaper rash ointment preventively if your baby is prone to diaper rash because, say–he has frequent bouts of diarrhea. But if your kid has zero diaper rash problems, you don’t necessarily need diaper rash ointment,” Dr. Kruse says.
Baby wipes—any preferences?
Wipes are an important part of your baby skin care routine. Look for baby wipes without fragrance or water wipes, which are moistened with water and a small amount of grapefruit seed extract. Traditional baby wipes can have harsh preservatives. “If you feel your baby is irritated by traditional baby wipes, water wipes are a great choice,” Dr. Kruse says.
Dr. Sorrell also recommends unfragranced dry baby wipes, which you have to get wet yourself with water. If your baby has super sensitive skin, she recommends making your own wipes with cotton squares and mineral oil, which is baby oil without fragrance. Store your homemade wipes in a to-go container to wick up moisture.
Cloth or disposable—which diaper type is better for preventing diaper rash?
Studies conflict. Some show that diaper rash is more common with cloth diapers. Some show it’s less likely, Dr. Kruse says. If you choose cloth diapers, use a diaper liner if/when you use diaper rash ointment. Without the protective liner (which also makes changing cloth diapers a lot easier), diaper rash ointment will clog cloth diapers over time, making them nonabsorbent.
When your baby has a diaper rash outbreak, switch to disposable diapers and use liberal amounts of diaper rash ointment. This is, by far, the best choice for treating diaper rash, Dr. Kruse says.
What’s the best laundry detergent for baby clothes?
“For my patients with sensitive skin or eczema, I recommend All Free and Clear or Tide Free and Gentle,” Dr. Sorrell says. “There’s no fragrance and they do a really good job of having as few ingredients as possible.”
Any tricks for cradle cap?
“You don’t have to treat mild cradle cap as long as it’s not causing any distress, like itching,” says Dr. Sorrell. If your baby has lots of the flaky, dry skin that looks like dandruff, “just massage a little mineral oil into your baby’s scalp and use a soft tooth brush to remove the flakes.”
All told, the best baby skin care products have are fragrance free and contain few ingredients.
Want to know more? Here are more tips for baby’s sensitive skin.