Odd rashes, suspicious crusting and bumps that crop up from out of the blue are all common afflictions of newborn skin that rarely portend something ominous and are easy to treat. Yet, they have scared many first-time parents into calling their pediatrician after hours or rushing to the emergency room.
“Neonatal rashes tend to develop suddenly and have a dramatic appearance that can easily frighten a rookie parent, but luckily most of these are completely benign,” says Johns Hopkins Children’s Center dermatologist Kate Püttgen, M.D.
Offering her dual expertise as a mom and pediatric dermatologist, Püttgen discusses newborn skin care and the most common skin problems in newborns.
What is it? Neonatal dandruff, also known as seborrheic dermatitis, is extremely common but the cause isn’t fully known. It tends to occur in areas rich in oil glands in the first three months of life.
How to treat? Most cases of cradle cap require nothing more than gentle washing and observation and clear up on its own. Petroleum jelly or olive oil can help relieve some of the crusting.
When to call the pediatrician? If crusting persists or gets worse over time, your pediatrician may prescribe an antifungal cream or shampoo.
What is it? Skin irritation marked by red inflamed patches or bumps on baby’s buttocks and genital area. Fungal infections can cause diaper rash . Another common cause is skin inflammation caused by exposure to stool and urine. Harsh soaps, sweat, moisture or diapers that are too tight can also cause a rash or worsen an existing rash.
How to prevent and treat? Change diapers often and as soon as the baby urinates or has a bowel movement. Wash your hands before and after you do so. Always dry baby’s skin thoroughly. Applying petroleum jelly or zinc oxide-based cream with each diaper change can be helpful. Never use talcum powder. Avoid perfumed baby wipes or wipes that contain alcohol. Keep the diapers loose. An antifungal or mild corticosteroid cream used for short periods can speed up healing.
When to call the pediatrician? If the rash doesn’t get better within a few days, spreads further, becomes oozy or if your baby develops fever — a sign of infection — it’s time to see a doctor. A fungal infection should be suspected in all babies taking antibiotics, which can disrupt the balance between good and bad bacteria and cause yeast overgrowth.
what to use on newborn dry skin
If your baby’s skin seems dry, you may want to apply a hypoallergenic moisturizer to your baby’s skin twice a day, including after bath time. Applying cream to their skin immediately after a bath helps seal in moisture. This can ease dryness and keep your baby’s skin soft.
Reduce bath time
Long baths can remove natural oils from your newborn’s skin. If you’ve been giving your newborn 20- or 30-minute baths, cut bath time down to 5 or 10 minutes.
Use lukewarm instead of hot water, and only use fragrance-free, soap-free cleansers. Regular soap and bubble baths are too harsh for a newborn’s skin.
Apply a moisturizer
If your baby’s skin seems dry, you may want to apply a hypoallergenic moisturizer to your baby’s skin twice a day, including after bath time.
Applying cream to their skin immediately after a bath helps seal in moisture. This can ease dryness and keep your baby’s skin soft. Gently massaging your newborn’s skin with a moisturizer can loosen flaky skin and facilitate peeling.
The extent of the skin peeling will vary according to the baby’s gestational age at birth. Babies who are born prematurely or before 40 weeks are likely to have less skin peeling than babies born closer to term, or after more than 40 weeks.
Babies who spend more time in the womb tend to have less vernix on them at birth, meaning that their skin has had more exposure to amniotic fluid. This can lead to increased skin peeling.
While a newborn’s exposure to the amniotic fluid is the most common cause of newborn skin peeling, there are other possible causes.
These may include:
There are many home remedies that people can use to help protect a newborn’s skin. The following 10 methods may help to prevent or treat dry, cracked, or peeling skin.
1. Reducing exposure to cold air
Cold air is often quite dry and can cause the skin to dry out in turn. This can lead to cracks in the skin and peeling. Limiting a baby’s exposure to cold air can help to prevent this.
2. Using a humidifier
When moisture is present in the air, it helps to prevent dry, itchy skin. A humidifier will increase the amount of moisture in the room.
3. Limiting the amount of time in the bathtub
Baths can have an adverse effect on a baby’s skin. Prolonged periods in bathwater can wash away naturally occurring oils, leaving the baby more susceptible to peeling skin. A parent or caregiver should limit bath time to a maximum of 10 minutes and avoid using harsh soaps.
4. Using lukewarm water to clean the baby
Lukewarm water is ideal for washing a baby’s skin. Water that is too hot can dry out the skin. It can also be beneficial to apply moisturizer immediately after a lukewarm bath.
5. Trying an oatmeal bath
Oatmeal bath treatments are available in many drug stores, natural food stores, and online.
6. Moisturizing the skin
Parents and caregivers can buy moisturizers that are particularly suitable for a baby’s sensitive skin. They should choose a hypoallergenic moisturizer and apply it two to three times a day.
7. Keeping the baby hydrated
Another way to prevent peeling skin on newborns is to ensure that they do not become dehydrated. Breast milk or formula should be sufficient to hydrate babies up to 6 months in age.
8. Avoiding unnecessary chemicals
A newborn’s skin is very sensitive. If the skin comes into contact with chemicals, such as perfumes or soaps with fragrances, it can become irritated.
9. Choosing appropriate clothing
In addition to washing a baby with fragrance-free soaps, parents should clean a baby’s clothing in detergents that do not contain unnecessary fragrances. This can help to prevent secondary exposure to these chemicals.
People should also choose soft, loose-fitting clothes made of natural materials for babies as these are less likely to irritate or put pressure on the skin.
10. Keeping the baby comfortable
Part of the treatment for the newborn’s peeling skin involves keeping the baby as comfortable as possible. This may involve soothing them and helping them to find positions that avoid putting pressure on the peeling skin.
Peeling skin is a common occurrence in newborns. In most cases, it should not be necessary to seek medical advice.
However, parents and caregivers should look for additional signs and symptoms. They should take a baby to see the doctor if the skin is:
If the baby is running a fever, medical attention will be necessary.
Peeling skin on a newborn baby is quite common and not usually a cause for concern. Treatment is usually possible using home remedies, and medical intervention is rarely necessary.
If a baby’s skin appears to be cracked, itchy, or swollen, it is best to take them to see a doctor. Otherwise, the methods above should help to protect the skin and prevent a reocurrence of the peeling skin.
Last medically reviewed on July 18, 2018
Causes of Dry Skin in Babies
The main culprit for dry, peeling skin is exposure to the amniotic fluid. Your newborn spent months surrounded by this liquid. Typically, this can affect overdue babies to a greater extent. However, it isn’t until the outer skin develops that the fluid poses a threat.
Editors Note: Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP
Up until about 17 weeks of gestation, your baby’s skin was transparent, covered by tiny hairs, and adapted to the moist environment. But as the “normal” skin develops, a barrier, vernix caseosa, forms to protect it from the various liquids.
What is it? A benign condition that affects the majority of newborns in the first days and weeks of life. Hallmark signs of the condition are yellowish papules surrounded by red skin on the face and trunk, upper arms and thighs.
How to treat? Typically no treatment is needed. The rash will clear up on its own within a few weeks.
When to call the pediatrician? If your baby has signs of erythema toxicum, an exam can confirm the diagnosis and provide reassurance.
The basic rules of neonatal skincare, Püttgen says, are “less is more” and “bland and simple.”
Babies don’t need an elaborate skin care regimen and barely any products. Keep bathing to a minimum to avoid stripping the skin of its protective natural oils. A bath twice or three times a week is sufficient.