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Care Tips for Tender Infant Skin

Delicate infant skin can be sensitive to some skin care products. Look for ingredients in lotions, creams, and shampoos that can irritate baby's skin.

Your baby’s skin is smooth, soft, and highly delicate. “A baby’s skin is thinner and has less hair, so it’s more fragile than yours,” says Pamela Jakubowicz, MD, dermatologist at Montefiore Medical Center and assistant clinical professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  So how you care for your baby’s skin is very important. Here are some guidelines for keeping your baby’s skin healthy.

If your child has sensitive skin:

  • Steer clear of products that have fragrances and perfumes.  
  • Avoid dryer sheets or fabric softeners, which leave a film on clothing and can irritate tender infant skin. 
  • Stay away from shampoo or washes made with sodium lauryl sulfate, which tend to burn children's eyes. 

If your infant gets cradle cap, a build-up of scales on the scalp, apply a little mineral oil to the scalp and gently brush away the thick scales with a very soft-bristle brush or toothbrush, suggests Jakubowicz.

Soaps and Anti-Bacterial Products

Avoid deodorant soaps meant for adults, they are harsh and too drying on a baby's skin. Although they may not lather as well, try milder liquid or bar products that will be labeled “cleansing bar” or “skin cleanser.” “Babies aren’t sweating, you don’t have to use anything harsh to get its skin clean,” says Jakubowicz.

Avoid using anti-bacterial products. They tend to dry out a baby's gentle skin. Also, regular use of anti-bacterial household products may actually increase the possibility that the germs they are meant to kill will eventually become more resistant to these products, and harder to kill.

Although bubble bath products may make bath time more fun for children, they tend to dry skin out. Be sure to use a bubble bath that is mild enough for frequent use. Using a moisturizer after bathing can also help avoid dry skin.

Moisturizers and Sun Protection

Stick to creams, ointment, and emollient moisturizers instead of lotions. “If it comes in a tube, it’s usually more effective,” says Jakubowicz. Avoid products that list alcohol in the ingredients. Alcohol tends to produce a drying effect that's counterproductive to moisturizing.

Try to keep babies less than six months old out of the sun, or dress them in sun-protective clothing. When that’s impossible, apply a small amount of sunscreen with at least 15 SPF to exposed areas like the face and back of hands. For older babies, choose a sunscreen labeled “broad-spectrum” with an SPF of at least 15, and reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating. Look for physical sunscreens and sunblockers or chemical-free sunscreen products that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Protect Baby's Tender Bottom

If your baby develops a diaper rash, make sure to change your baby’s diaper every three to four hours, and immediately after a bowel movement. Wipes can be irritating to raw skin, so use unscented wipes or a soft cloth with water until it heals. Allow baby’s bottom to air dry. A cream or ointment with zinc oxide can help protect the area. For prevention, petroleum ointments should do fine.

For the first three months, or longer, if your baby has sensitive skin, avoid baby wipes that have fragrances. You can also skip the wipes altogether and just use wash cloths and a squirt bottle of water at the baby's changing table.

If you use baby powder, pour it out carefully and keep the powder away from the baby's face. Talc or cornstarch in baby powder can injure a baby's lungs.

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