How to Use Diaper Cream (7 Simple Steps)

Diaper rash is inevitable. Here's how to apply the cream.

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    Are you worried about the scourge of diaper rash hitting your home?

    If you have a baby, then you know how soft and smooth their skin can be. You probably also know how prone it can be to irritation.

    With the need to wear diapers 24/7, a baby’s bottom is constantly exposed to bacteria-breeding moisture and excrement. For this reason, diaper cream is an essential part of newborn care to both prevent and treat diaper rash.

    But just as important as choosing the proper diaper cream is the correct product application. Here’s what you need to know.

    Why Does Diaper Cream Do?

    The purpose of diaper cream is two-fold.

    1. Prevention of diaper rash: Diaper creams form a barrier between your baby’s skin and potential irritants, including moisture, excrement, acids from foods, and chemicals in their diapers.
    2. Treatment of diaper rash: If an outbreak has already occurred, diaper cream may be used to heal it. Many products contain ingredients that soothe and moisturize the skin, offer a moisture barrier to allow the skin to heal without further irritation, and (if you’re using a specific medicated product for this purpose) kill yeast and treat yeast-based rashes.

    What Types of Diaper Cream Products Are Available?

    While the term diaper cream is used to generalize all products that get slathered on a baby’s bum, there are many different types of products for that purpose.

    • Creams: Creams are water-based products that are easily absorbed by the skin. They spread easily, and are best for soothing irritated skin. (1).
    • Pastes: Pastes are much thicker than creams and are primarily used as a protectant/moisture barrier, however many also contain skin conditioners to soothe irritated skin. They typically include zinc oxide, which is generally not recommended if you are using cloth diapers.
    • Ointments: Ointments are oil-based and greasy, but provide an unparalleled moisture barrier between your child’s skin and potential irritants because they sit on top of your child’s skin longer, rather than being absorbed by it.
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    Where Should I Put Diaper Cream?

    Diaper cream is primarily applied to the cheeks of the buttocks, where direct contact with the diaper occurs. It may also be helpful to apply cream between the cheeks of the buttocks and around the anus if irritation tends to develop in this area for your child.

    Take Note

    Diaper cream is safe to apply to a boy’s penis or a girl’s vaginal area — though do not apply it inside the vagina. These areas don’t tend to develop contact dermatitis as frequently as the buttocks, so it’s also okay to skip this area if you’d rather.

    On boys, diaper rash may occur on the scrotum, so it is safe to apply in this area if necessary.

    Some parents apply the cream to the creases of the thighs or where the diaper meets the legs to reduce chafing. While completely safe, this is not recommended as it can come into contact with your child’s clothes and diaper creams tend to stain fabrics.

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    Should I Apply Diaper Cream at Every Diaper Change?

    Whether you use diaper cream at every diaper change is a matter of personal preference. Some mothers apply it all the time as a preventative measure against diaper rash. Others choose to use it as needed if their child is showing signs of irritation.

    There is no right or wrong answer, but considering slathering on the cream:

    • When your baby has a rash.
    • When your baby shows signs of redness/irritation.
    • When your newborn is pooping meconium (black tar poop) to keep it from sticking to your baby’s skin.
    • When your baby has diarrhea, to prevent irritation from the stool.
    • When your baby is teething, has a cold, or is taking antibiotics because their stools may be looser.
    • If your baby has sensitive skin and gets rashes often, you may want to use it at every diaper change.
    • You may also want to consider using diaper cream regularly every night. Especially for babies who are sleeping for long stretches, overnight is the time when their skin has the most exposure to moisture and excrement, so their chance of developing a rash increases then (2).

    How Can I Get the Most Out of My Diaper Cream?

    Diaper cream can be expensive so it’s no wonder you want to make yours last as long as possible. There are a few ways to maximize your diaper cream.

    • Choose the right product — whether it’s a cream, ointment, or medication — for the job for maximum effectiveness.
    • Consider using petroleum jelly as your daily moisture barrier, and use the pricier creams when your child has a diaper issue that needs treatment.
    • Diaper creams are meant to go on thick — however, you can get away with using less on a day-to-day basis and increasing the thickness when your child’s bum needs extra care.
    • Don’t over-use diaper cream. A dime-sized application is usually sufficient to cover a baby’s teeny bum.
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    Are There Any Safety Considerations I Need to Be Aware of with Diaper Cream?

    While diaper creams are safe and widely used by parents worldwide, there are a few things to be aware of.

    Do not use baby powder in conjunction with your cream. The powder can become airborne and enter your child’s lungs, which is unhealthy. The cornstarch in powder is also a food source for yeast, exacerbating the problem if your baby has a yeast rash.

    Pro Tip

    If you like using baby powder, you can do so safely by mixing it with your favorite diaper cream (or petroleum jelly) to create a paste. Keep the paste in a sealed container on your changing table for custom-made ready-to-use diaper cream.

    Always wash your hands with soap and water after applying diaper cream. When using diaper cream, your hands will come into contact with fecal bacteria. No matter how clean your baby’s bum appears, the truth is that baby wipes do not kill bacteria. Do not be fooled into thinking that you can simply clean your hands with a baby wipe to sanitize them after applying diaper cream (3).

    And to recap this important rule, diaper creams may be used around the vaginal area of girls, but never put diaper cream inside the vagina. Diaper creams may be used on the penis and scrotum, but if your child is uncircumcised, the foreskin should never be forcibly retracted.

    Finally, many diaper creams contain potential allergens. If your child has allergies, be sure to check the labels for ingredients such as:

    • Lanolin.
    • Mineral oil.
    • Coconut oil.
    • Beeswax.
    • Sunflower oil.
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    How to Apply Diaper Cream

    1. Remove the Dirty Diaper

    Remove your child’s dirty diaper. Use a baby wipe to clean all visible waste and diaper cream residue off of your child’s bottom and genital area. If you have a boy, you may want to place a wipe over his penis to keep him from urinating all over you while you apply diaper cream.

    2. Place A Clean Diaper Underneath Your Baby’s Bottom

    Place a clean diaper under your baby’s bottom as if you are going to put it on them, but do not close or fasten it. This will prevent diaper cream from getting on your changing pad, and put you in a good position to quickly fasten the diaper as soon as you’re done applying the cream.

    3. Use a Dime-Sized Amount

    Squeeze a dime-sized amount of cream directly onto your finger. Your middle or pointer finger typically work best.

    4. Apply Cream

    Apply cream to your baby’s bottom. Spread the cream thickest on the cheeks of their buttocks or any areas that appear red and inflamed.

    You can also apply cream:

    • Between the butt cheeks.
    • Around the anus.
    • In the folds of the labia and around the vagina for girls.
    • On the scrotum and penis of boys.

    5. Wipe Excess Cream from Your Fingers

    Wipe the excess cream onto the inside of the clean diaper that your baby is laying on, or clean your finger with a baby wipe.

    6. Re-Apply The Clean Diaper

    Reposition the diaper if necessary to make sure it’s going on straight. It may have shifted slightly when you were applying the diaper cream. Securely fasten the clean diaper around your baby.

    7. Wash Your Hands.

    After removing your baby from the changing table and putting them in a safe place, wash your hands with soap and water. Though your hands may appear clean from “washing” them with a baby wipe, wipes do not kill all bacteria.

    The Bottom Line

    Applying diaper cream seems simple enough, but there are just enough things to trip you up to make you question whether you’re doing it right. To make sure you’re applying your diaper cream safely and effectively, you should:

    1. Remove the dirty diaper and clean your baby.
    2. Place a clean diaper underneath your baby’s bottom.
    3. Use a dime-sized amount of cream.
    4. Apply the cream to the appropriate places.
    5. Wipe the excess cream off your fingers.
    6. Fasten the clean diaper.
    7. Wash your hands.

    Were you surprised by any of the facts in this article? Let us know in the comments — and share with another mama to make sure she’s doing diaper duty properly.

    Headshot of Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

    Reviewed by

    Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

    Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett is a veteran board-certified pediatrician with three decades of experience, including 19 years of direct patient clinical care. She currently serves as a medical consultant, where she works with multiple projects and clients in the area of pediatrics, with an emphasis on children and adolescents with special needs.
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