Everywhere out there is information on how to care for a baby’s skin. In fact, it seems that much like anything with baby-care, there’s conflicting information from a variety of sources. That’s because there hasn’t been a lot of study of baby skin care, despite the fact that babies are delicate. And it’s not just because they’re small and helpless — they have soft, powdery baby skin that’s different from adult skin. This post covers basic information about babies' skin and skin care. Look for future posts on products and baby skin care topics.
What Makes a Baby’s Skin Different?
Babies' skin is thinner and has small cells than adults' skin.
Full-term infants have less skin barrier function than adults. There’s not as much stability because a baby’s skin is constantly changing depending on environmental factors, which means it’s more prone to irritation and transepidermal water loss (Skin Pharmacology and Physiology
). This is particularly true in premature infants, who catch up faster when they are born at 27 weeks or later (Neonatal Network
). Premature infants skin can be compromised even by trauma caused by the adhesives used on them in the care units at hospitals (Dermatological Theory
). The difference between adult and infant skin is thinner layers and small cells (Pediatric Dermatology
). But the rate that skin matures depends on the area of the body. Some areas — like upper legs, torso, and forehead — mature to adult levels faster. Overall, the skin continues maturing beyond the first year.
Washing and Moisturizing Baby’s Skin
Before crawling, babies do not need to be bathed more than twice a week.
This probably seems silly to say, but it’s surprisingly complex. There’s not a lot of scientific knowledge about the best skin care practices for infants. Many suggestions are based on opinions and long-held beliefs rather than scientific study. After the first several weeks, a baby’s skin, which starts out as neutral, becomes acidic like and adults. This helps prevent the proliferation of certain bacteria and enzymes that are harmful to health. For the first several weeks, anything more than clean water and, at most, a mild, non-perfume soap used as needed, can neutralize skin. Until babies crawl, they don’t need to be bathed more than twice a week. Often bathing Is recommended over washing. After bathing, it’s important to use emollients to help restore skin barrier function. For the first year of their lives, babies’ skin is drier than adults, and so emollients will hydrate skin.
Natural and Organic Baby Products
Just because a product is natural or organic doesn't mean that it can't be irritating. It's important to read labels.
Natural products can be an excellent choice for parents who are concerned about certain ingredients in products — unfortunately they can also be a terrible choice if parents aren’t careful. That’s because simply trusting the “organic” or “all natural” stamp, instead of looking at the ingredients, can lead parents to unwittingly use known irritants on their children’s skin. Many people forget that natural products can be just as harsh as the non-natural ingredients they’re trying to avoid. [Read More: Five Natural that Can Irritate Your Skin
] For example, I’ve read suggestions about putting olive oil on your baby, but olive oil can significantly delay the recovery of barrier function compared to control or Aquaphor treated skin (Acta Paediatrica
). And because babies’ barrier function is delicate as-is, using olive oil could be problematic. That’s why it’s important not to just take surface note of labels but to really understand the ingredients in products and look at whether they’ll be good for your baby’s skin.
Babies’ skin is different than adults’ skin. It’s thinner and more constantly changing depending on the environment. That’s why it’s important to take care of a baby’s delicate skin with very mild routines. It’s also crucial to read labels instead of simply trusting that “natural” or “organic” products are formulated without potentially irritating ingredients.