Come autumn and winter, when your household’s central heating usually goes back on, it’s easy to find that a baby’s new skin gets drier than it has been. There are some simple things you can do to keep your child’s skin as healthy as possible.
Dr Sarah Jarvis from the Royal College of General Practitioners (FRCGP) offers some simple tips and guidelines to ensure your baby’s skin doesn’t dry out from over bathing, dressing your child in the wrong clothes, or from washing them in detergents that are unsuitable for baby garments and bedding.
Winter skin problems
Babies may be particularly prone to dry, irritated skin in winter. A number of factors play a part:
Central heating tends to make the atmosphere dry, and can dry out your baby’s skin. Your baby’s hands and face are particularly prone to getting cold. This can cause dryness and chapping.
Wind, as well as cold, can cause chapping. Fortunately, simple measures can help to keep your child’s skin in tip-top condition:
- Don’t bath your baby more than every 2-3 days, and keep bathtime short
- Don’t bundle your child up too warmly. This can make him sweat, which can irritate the skin
- Remember that the difference between outside and inside temperature is greatest in winter. Lots of layers of thin clothes will allow you to adjust his clothing to keep him at the right temperature
- Never wear wool next to the skin
- Use unscented emollients if needed, applied frequently during the day, if your child has dry skin.
- Rinsing clothes thoroughly, and using a fabric conditioner designed for sensitive skin if you use one, are all the more important at this time of year, when your baby’s skin may be irritated by other things.
Baby’s skin and bathtime
As the old saying goes, “skin is a wonderful thing – it keeps the outside out and the inside in.” Your precious baby’s skin is thinner than yours, and loses water more easily. Although bathtime and bedtime are often the most enjoyable part of the day with your baby, you do need to take special care of their skin at this time.
For the first few weeks of life, stick to water only – whether changing nappies or bathing.
Once your baby is a few months old, you may find they start getting very dry skin or eczema. Use an unscented bath emollient at bathtime, and a soap substitute such as aqueous cream to avoid drying their skin out.
After the bath, you can use unscented emollient (moisturiser) before you put their pyjamas on. Lots of parents don’t like the look of really greasy emollients on their baby’s skin. However, they do tend to stay on longer, and usually work better, than creamy versions.
An unscented barrier cream on the skin under the nappy will prevent irritation of this vulnerable area. That’s especially important at night, since babies go for longer than they do in the day (we hope!) without having their nappy changed. Here are our picks of the best nappy creams.
Obviously you won’t want your baby to get too cold. But it’s equally important not to let them get too warm. Apart from other risks, a warm baby sweats more when they’re tucked up too warm in bed. This can lead to irritation and dryness of the skin.
Your baby’s winter wardrobe
There are so many delicious baby clothes out there, and they all look so tempting. But you do need to remember that your baby’s skin is very thin and fragile compared to yours. It’s beautifully designed to help your baby regulate her temperature, keep essential fluids in and protect against infection. However, it needs a helping hand from you to keep it soft, supple and in perfect working order.
Avoid wool next to the skin anywhere – including woolly hats! Wool can irritate the skin and cause worsening of eczema. Your baby’s scalp is particularly prone to a kind of eczema called cradle cap, and the skin of the face – which woolly hats may rub against – is particularly sensitive.
As much as possible, stick to natural fabrics rather than synthetic. They let your baby’s skin ‘breathe’ and help prevent them sweating, which can irritate the skin.
Use several layers of thin clothing rather than over-thick garments. This lets you adjust their clothing much more easily in different temperatures.
Always take hats off indoors. Your baby loses a lot of excess heat through their scalp – a warm hat in a warm room can prevent essential heat loss.
Treating common baby skin problems
Very few babies have the perfect skin. Up to 1 in 3 babies are born with some sort of birth mark, with names like mongolian spots, stork marks or strawberry naevi. Most of them are nothing to worry about. Within their first few months of life, babies get all sorts of rashes and skin problems.
Here are a few tips to help:
- Strange as it may seem, water can dry your baby’s skin out. For the first few months of life, don’t bathe them every day. A bath every two to three days is fine, with ‘topping and tailing’ in between. If your child has eczema, your doctor can advise about emollients (moisturisers) as well as bath products.
- Simple unscented emollients are the mainstay of treatment for eczema. They replace moisture and prevent moisture loss from the skin. However, they only last for a few hours, so need to be reapplied several times a day.
- To minimise the chance of nappy rash, change nappies frequently and apply barrier cream to protect their skin from urine. Keep your baby’s skin open to the air indoors as much as possible – lie him on a towel to catch any spills!
- Lots of babies are born with tiny white or red pimples around their nose, lips and eyes, or develop them within a few weeks of birth. They’re called milia or milk spots, and they don’t need any treatment unless they get inflamed and sore-looking. If they do, see your GP or health visitor.
How to care for baby’s clothes
Your skin is the biggest organ in your body, but all too often we take it for granted. In fact, it does a superb job at keeping out infection and stops your body from losing essential fluids. Old skin is being rubbed off the surface of your body, and new skin is being formed, all the time. But your baby’s skin is thinner and more vulnerable than yours. That means you need to reduce irritation from the clothes they wear 24 hours a day. Top tips include:
Consider using a fabric conditioner that has been designed for sensitive skin – the benefits of the softening effect on the fibres can outweigh any possible risk of irritation by the ingredients. Look for the British Skin Foundation logo for reassurance.
Ideally, wash new fabrics before you put them on your baby to keep them feeling soft.