Babies with Sensitive Skin: How to Ease Their Pain

Do you have a baby with sensitive skin? You want them to be comfortable, but knowing their delicate skin is dry, painful, or irritated can leave you feeling pretty guilty.

Babies may grow out of their sensitive skin. Or they may not (source). The important thing is to treat the current symptoms while you work through the underlying cause.

Take back some control by following these sensitive skin tips, and you’ll ease your little one’s discomfort, as well as your own mind.

Contents

    Tips for Babies with Sensitive Skin

    1. Less is More

    When you first notice that your child has sensitive skin, you might assume you need more of something. Maybe you think more frequent baths will help, or heavy-duty lotions. The truth is, this usually just aggravates the situation, rather than rectifies it (source).

    Exposure to water can dramatically increase dryness, actually encouraging continued sensitivity (source). Opt to use a cooler temperature water, as heat can exacerbate the problem as well. This is true in the presence of eczema or atopic dermatitis. I usually recommend bathing infants with this condition every 2 days, especially during colder, winter months when the skin can become more dry.

    Directly after your baby’s bath, you can use a “locking-in” method, to trap moisture back into your baby’s still damp skin. Make sure to use a dermatologically approved, preferably natural, moisturizer for best results (source).

    2. Product Choice is Critical

    It’s not enough to just avoid using more of the products you have in rotation. You also need to be highly selective and reconsider the topical products you’re using.

    Look for products with all-natural ingredients, without fragrances or dyes, and ones stamped with approval for sensitive skin, dry skin, or eczema (source).

    Many of these conditions are interrelated. What works for one will likely work for another, and all are formulated to protect vulnerable skin.

    Baby aisles are full of sweet-smelling products, designed specifically to tempt. But don’t be swayed by beautiful packaging and smiling babies. Trust your intuition — weed out products that may do more harm than good when it comes to keeping skin healthy.

    The products that I typically recommend for my patients are ones that retain moisture longer on the skin such as Eucerin, Cetaphil and Aquaphor. I also like Cerave because, unlike other products on the market, it contains ceramides which mimic those that help retain moisture in the skin. The journal Dermatology Research Practice discusses infant skin care in further detail (s0urce).
    Headshot of Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

    Editor's Note:

    Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

    3. The Importance of Household Products

    The significance of product choice doesn’t end with topically-applied products. Take a good look at what you use in your home that could be contributing to skin issues.

    If you aren’t sure where those products might be hiding, start by considering these:

    • Laundry: Start with your laundry routine. If you aren’t already using a laundry detergent that’s both fragrance- and dye-free, or labeled for sensitive skin, choose a brand you trust and go from there. Here are some tips from the AAP on how to clean your baby’s clothes (source).
    • Optional Laundry Additives: Don’t forget to look at any softeners or dryer sheets you’ve been using. Cut them out completely if you can, and if you just can’t let them go, find ones with no added fragrance.
    • Air Additives and Fragrances: Do you have air fresheners around the home? Or perhaps you burn candles? These can both contribute to skin sensitivities.
    • Carpet Cleaning Products: Consider swapping commercial carpet cleaners out for good old baking soda. It’s great at fighting unpleasant odors and contains no harmful chemicals. Make sure you follow up your treatment with a thorough vacuuming, as some people do have a topical sensitivity to it (source).
      This particularly becomes an issue with infants when they begin to crawl. I have seen several patients with an irritated rash on the legs and knees, only to learn that the family recently had the carpets cleaned in their home.
      Headshot of Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

      Editor's Note:

      Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

    Don’t be afraid to purge, but at the very least, put such products away until the skin problems are under control. Once you feel like you’ve made progress with the compromised skin, go ahead and reintroduce items one at a time.

    If you notice a change or can pinpoint a cause, it’s so much easier to pull it from the rotation and avoid using it in future.

    4. Fibers

    Take a look at the kind of material your child is wearing. Your baby likely spends most of the day dressed. If there’s contact irritation happening, it may be coming from the kind of clothes your baby is wearing.

    When picking out clothing, look for breathable cotton and natural fibers (source). These are less likely to cause irritation and allow your baby’s skin to have the air exchange it needs.

    Some animal products, like wool, can be problematic for sensitive skin. Do your best to pay attention to when rashes and skin conditions worsen — and try to draw connections to what might be the cause. The more information you can gather, the more likely you’ll be able to avoid the cause in the future.

    5. Diapers and Diaper Products

    There’s no getting around the need for diapers. If you have a baby, you’re going to need them. But babies with sensitive skin may have frequent diaper rashes.

    These aren’t always caused by sitting in a soiled diaper — sometimes it’s just a contact rash caused by the diaper itself (source).

    Keep your little one dry and clean with frequent diaper changes. Following the “less is more” method, I found I had the best results if I avoided all preventative treatments unless there was an active skin issue.

    Commercially bought disposable wipes can have harsh soaps in them, that dry out and irritate the skin. If you must use disposable wipes, consider using a gentle formula made specifically for babies with sensitive skin.

    Soft flannel reusable wipes and a gentle water and soap mixture (even made with your baby’s favorite bath wash) can provide a great alternative to commercial wipes. If you find the chemicals in disposable diapers exacerbate diaper rash, you may want to consider using cloth diapers instead.

    When all else fails, give your baby’s skin some much-needed air time. Let your baby play sans diaper — giving skin a healthy dose of fresh air can do wonders for any stubborn rashes or other issues. A drying technique that I recommend, especially in cases of fungal diaper rashes, is to dry the diaper area with a blow dryer on the COOL setting for a few seconds. This reduces fungal growth and helps to heal the rash.

    6. Adventures with Food

    Notice any patterns regarding your child’s skin conditions and the food they’re eating? Still exclusively breastfeeding? Is there a pattern regarding your child’s skin conditions and the foods you’re consuming?

    If the answer is yes, these are probably not coincidences. Foods can have a visible impact on skin health (source).

    Clinically, I have seen facial rashes around the mouth or on the cheeks when older infants consume fresh berries or acidic foods such as tomatoes or oranges. This is due to contact of these foods on the skin, not an allergic reaction. Applying an emollient cream as a barrier can protect the skin from irritation while consuming these foods.
    Headshot of Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

    Editor's Note:

    Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

    If you believe there’s a connection between diet and skin issues, consider an elimination diet to sort them out. You can also opt to cut something out voluntarily — just to see what happens.

    I found my youngest broke out in a rash across the face whenever I consumed dairy while nursing. It was especially prevalent with cheese. I did my best to cut dairy from my diet, and my baby’s skin reaped the benefit.

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    Products to Soothe Sensitive Skin Issues

    If you’re looking for those perfect products to soothe sensitive skin, here are some I just couldn’t live without and can’t recommend highly enough.

    1. Vita Coco Organic Coconut Oil

    Coconut oil has so many uses. You’ve probably seen it recommended for everything, from putting it in your coffee to cleaning your wood furniture.

    One thing’s for sure, though: coconut oil is a go-to product for dry and painful skin. Peeling lips, a sore bottom, or chafed legs? A little coconut oil smoothed on after a tepid bath can do wonders for your baby’s skin.

    Coconut oil has a high melting point. Warm it and apply as you would a traditional baby oil, or rub it into your baby’s skin in its solid state. Heat from the skin will melt the oil, encouraging it to seep in, where it can provide much-needed moisture.

    I love that this Vita Coco coconut oil is made with non-GMO and unrefined oil. It will last you up to two years on the shelf — not that mine ever sat around that long.

    The jar is leakproof and long-lasting. You may find it works so well for your little one that you want to try it yourself.

    In my patients with moderate to severe eczema, coconut oil seems to work the best, even more so that other products that are marketed for this purpose.
    Headshot of Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

    Editor's Note:

    Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

    2. Burt’s Bees Calming Shampoo and Body Wash

    I loved incorporating this body wash into my bedtime bath routine. We didn’t do a bath every night, which helped prevent excessive drying.

    The corresponding moisturizer with the same calming scent (naturally derived lavender and vanilla) helped keep our routine regular even when we skipped bathtime.

    I really appreciate this product because my fragrance options were so limited with my baby’s sensitive skin. This one is so light and sweet and very appropriate for a baby — simply perfect for cuddling to sleep.

    If you’re still concerned about bringing home a product not marked “unscented,” take comfort in knowing this is pediatrician-tested and hypoallergenic.

    It’s also phthalate-, paraben-, petrolatum-, and synthetic ingredient free. It doesn’t come any more natural than this.

    Both a solid bedtime routine and lavender can help transition a resistant baby to sleep (source). If you’re looking for a better night’s sleep and a baby with better skin, using Burt’s Bees calming wash is a great start. Avoid lavender oil and products containing this oil, however, due to the potential adverse endocrine effects (source).

    3. Aquaphor Advanced Therapy Healing Ointment

    Aquaphor is a popular product, and there’s a reason why. Recommended by dermatologists for dry, cracked, or damaged skin, it allows air exchange to take place and promotes healing in damaged skin.

    I used Aquaphor on exceptionally dry patches of skin and also on diaper rashes. This is a petroleum-derived product, so you may want to opt for an alternative if you use cloth diapers.

    Or, if you need a heavy dose of Aquaphor for a day or two, you can always switch temporarily to disposable diapers.

    If you haven’t used Aquaphor products before, be aware that it won’t be absorbed immediately into the skin. It sits on top while the skin slowly absorbs the moisture it needs.

    If the feel of the product bothers you, consider using it before bed when your little one will spend less time in your arms.


    Skin Sensitivities Don’t Have to Get You Down

    Making proactive decisions about how to approach your baby’s sensitive skin can make all the difference in the world. Even small changes can have a huge impact on your baby’s comfort level.

    Start making them today and pause to look back on the journey a few weeks from now. You could even start a journal with photographic evidence to see the progress you’ve made.

    We’d love to hear about what works for you. Have you used any of these products? Do you have others you can add to the list? Let us know in the comments section below and we may add them!

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