Guide to baby skin problems

Rashes, blisters, lumps and bumps… a guide to conditions that bug babies’ bodies and how to treat them

Eczema can cause scratching


What does it look like: “The first thing to look out with eczema for is dry skin, which some babies can have from the day they’re born,” says Dr Tim Clayton, consultant paediatric dermatologist at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. “This may develop at around the age of 3 months to include redness of the skin, too. Quite often in babies, it starts on the cheeks, but by aged 2, tends to appear on the backs of hands or tops of feet. You’ll also notice your child scratching.”


What should you do: “The key is regular moisturising,” says Tim. “Your GP can provide you with the right product. It’s also important not to bath your child in anything containing soap. A good idea is to wash their hair over the sink, so that their skin doesn’t come into contact with shampoo in the bath water. If the skin is inflamed, the GP can prescribe a mild steroid cream to help calm it down, or you can buy one over the counter that’s suitable.”


What does it look like:Ringworm is caused by the same fungus that causes athlete’s foot,” says Tim. “It’s typically a circle of dry, flaky skin with a smoother centre and tends to be red around the edge. It usually causes quite a bit of itching.”

What should you do: “It’s best treated with an anti-fungal preparation, such as Lamasil, which you can buy from a chemist,” says Tim. “There’s no need for a trip to the GP unless it doesn’t improve after a week of treatment. One thing to remember is that if it spreads to your child’s scalp they will need a stronger treatment so pop to the GP or a dermatologist.”


What does it look like: “Impetigo is a bacterial infection of the surface of the skin,” says Dr Clive Grattan, consultant dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation. “It’s characterised by blisters that can burst and crust over and isnormally found around the nose and mouth, although it can appear elsewhere.”

What should you do: “Impetigo is very contagious, so your child should stay away from nursery or school until it’s cleared up,” says Clive. “The GP or dermatologist usually confirms impetigo with a swab and treats it with an antibiotic cream or ointment. Parents should be very careful to wash their hands after applying the cream to avoid spreading the infection.”

Chicken pox

What does it look like: “Chicken pox is a common, normally short-lived, childhood disease,” explains Dr Peter Swinyard, chairman of The Family Doctor Association. “It starts as individual, small spots that go on to form bubbles of clear fluid in the centre. They then crust over and usually disappear. It’s contagious for a few days before the rash appears and until the last spot crusts over, which can take about five days.”

What should you do: “It’s not necessary to go to your GP although you can call for advice,” says Peter. “Give your child plenty of fluids and paracetamol if necessary. The rash is best treated with calamine lotion and children will feel more comfortable in loose clothing.”


What does it look like: “Slapcheek is a minor illness characterised by a rosy red rash on the cheeks with whiteness around the mouth,” says Peter. “It’s most common in children aged 1 to 6 and tends to come in cycles.”  

What should you do: It needs no intervention and children will just seem a bit grotty for a couple of days and can be treated with paracetamol or ibuprofen relevant to their age

Cradle cap

What does it look like:Cradle cap is a thickening of the skin in infants,” explains Tim Clayton. “It’s very common and appears as yellowy-silver clumps on the scalp.”

What should you do: “In the first instance, it’s worth trying olive oil,” says Tim. “Massage it into your baby’s scalp before rinsing it out at bathtime with a normal baby shampoo. Afterwards, use a baby comb to gently remove the scales. This is normally enough to clear it up by itself. But if it persists, ask your GP as it could indicate another problem such as psoriasis.”

Plantar warts (verrucas)

What does it look like: “Vera is actually the latin word for wart,” explains Clive Grattan. “Otherwise known as plantar warts, veruccas are just warts that appear on the sole of the foot. They are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) and have a rough surface with small black dots inside.”

What should you do: “Often, you don’t have to do anything,” says Clive. “The body’s immune system should recognise the infection and get rid of it. This can take weeks, months or even longer than a year. But there are treatments available from the chemist depending on the age of your child.”

Mum’s story

“In my early teens, I suddenly developed eczema all over my stomach, chest and arms. The doctor prescribed various creams and I had tests at the hospital, but it eventually went away of its own accord when I was about 20.

When my daughter Elsa was born I wondered whether she might have the same. At first her skin was clear, but when she was about 6 months old I noticed the familiar dry red skin appearing on her face. Soon it spread to her torso and became quite sore and flaky. Recognising eczema, I took her to the GP who prescribed a combination of moisturising cream and steroid cream for when it got bad.

The worst thing was trying to stop her scratching because of the risk of infection – how do you explain that to a baby? I gradually learnt that if I kept her skin as moist as possible, then it wasn’t so itchy.

By the time Elsa was about 14 months old, her eczema had already got a lot better although it still flares up from time to time. When it gets bad, we use the steroid cream to bring it back under control, before switching back to our usual moisturising regime. I’m also careful to not use wipes on her face and to make sure her nursery understands that too. It’s really hard to stop her scratching it, particularly now she’s older and doesn’t wear baby vests that are securely done up underneath her. We have to be careful not to use any products in her bath and I try to make sure she avoids eating acidic foods, such as strawberries, tomatoes and oranges, as these seem to aggravate it.

Hopefully, Elsa will grow out of her eczema, but even if she doesn’t, we’re slowly learning how to cope with it.”

Katrina Bavin, 32, from Diss, mum to Elsa, 2


Is it meningitis?

A rash that won’t disappear when you roll a glass over it indicates the illness, and if that happens get help immediately. Other signs to look out for include blotchy, pale or blue skin, tense or bulging fontanelle, poor feeding or high-pitched cries.

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