Skin care for babies is big business. On Amazon alone, there are more than 60,000 products in the baby skin care category!
Published: March 29, 2019
By: Sandra Gordon
Before stocking up on bottom balm and lavender baby wash or other skin care “essentials” for your baby registry, read up. We asked experts from the Society for Pediatric Dermatology for the dirt on the best skin care products – what your baby truly needs and what you can do without.
Stick with the basics. “All babies certainly need a gentle wash,” says Lacey L. Kruse, MD, FAAD, assistant professor of pediatrics and dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and mom to Jonah, 2, and Nolan, 3½.
Kruse is picky about the products she uses and recommends for her patients. Skin cleansers that make the cut include Dove Body Wash, Aquaphor Baby Wash and Shampoo, Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser (not Cetaphil’s baby line) and CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser (ditto – not CeraVe’s baby line). “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,” she says.
Do babies need moisturizer? 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 of all babies have eczema.
For these babies, Kruse recommends Vaseline (petroleum jelly) or Aquaphor, which is similar. “Vaseline is one of the best moisturizers there is,” she says, or a non-fragranced, 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,” she adds.
Kruse’s top moisturizer picks include CeraVe Cream, Cetaphil cream (not the baby line) and CeraVe Baby Moisturizing Lotion, which is thinner the CeraVe cream.
After your baby’s bath, pat her dry and then apply moisturizer. The best time to moisturize is within three minutes of getting out of the bath. “A little bit of moisture seeps into the skin during the bath. Moisturizer helps seal in that moisture,” Kruse says.
Recent studies show that a bath, then applying moisturizer may help prevent eczema from developing. You don’t need to apply moisturizer daily if your baby doesn’t have a bath – or at other times of the day, Kruse says. An after-bath moisturizing is all your baby needs.
If your baby has eczema, however, you’ll want to apply moisturizer more often to help prevent flare-ups. If a flare-up does occur, prescription or over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication (cortisone) typically clears it up quickly, Kruse says.
How often do babies need a bath? Less often than you might think. You don’t need to give your baby a bath daily. “For many babies, a few times per week or every other day is enough,” Kruse explains. For babies with dry skin, keep the bath short – about 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,” 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,” Kruse says. But if your baby has eczema, “I like Cetaphil’s non-fragranced 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 as does calendula, “but it doesn’t mean they’re the gentlest products for baby’s skin,” Sorrell adds. For babies, Sorrell recommends avoiding 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.
Kruse agrees. “A lot of the plant and food extracts in organic products can be irritating for kids with sensitive skin or eczema.”
Is it ever okay to skip the diaper rash ointment? It’s good to use diaper rash ointment preventively if your baby is prone to diaper rash; if, for example, he has frequent bouts of diarrhea. But if your kid has zero diaper rash problems, you don’t necessarily need diaper rash ointment, Kruse says.
Which baby wipes are best? Wipes are an important part of your baby skin care routine. Look for baby wipes without fragrance or buy 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,” Kruse says.
Sorrell also recommends fragrance-free dry baby wipes, which you moisten 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.
Which diaper type is better for preventing diaper rash – cloth or disposable?
Studies are mixed. Some show that diaper rash is more common with cloth diapers. Others indicate that diaper rash is less likely with cloth diapers, 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, Kruse says.
What’s the best laundry detergent for baby clothes and diapers? “For babies with sensitive skin or eczema, I recommend All Free and Clear or Tide Free and Gentle,” Sorrell says. “There’s no fragrance and they do a really good job of having as few ingredients as possible.”
What about cradle cap? 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 toothbrush to remove the flakes,” Sorrell says. Otherwise, don’t bother. “You don’t have to treat mild cradle cap as long as it’s not causing any distress, like itching,” she says.
Sandra Gordon is a writer who specializes in health and medicine.