Fleecy sleep sacks, baby-sized sweaters, and tiny furry boots — are you getting your baby ready for winter?
Natasha Burgert, M.D., FAAP
As you start organizing your baby’s cold-weather gear, don’t forget to change their skincare routine, too. The dryness of winter weather can cause sensitive baby skin to get dry and rashy, making those comfy clothes a little less snuggly.
Here are my expert tips for healthy baby skin during the winter:
Baby skin is unique
There’s a reason your baby’s skin is so irresistible. From birth, a baby’s soft, supple skin has the miraculous ability to protect from infection and injury. Infant skin is water-dense and highly absorptive. However, during the first few months of life, the skin is rapidly developing and changing.
Biological changes make baby skin more durable and adult-like over time. The skin’s outer layer becomes more acidic as oils and sweat start to float on the skin surface. Critical to skin function, this acidity helps the body fight microorganisms and prevent chronic disease. A baby skincare plan should support these important transitions.
Bathing your baby
Bathing your baby should be relaxing and fun. A good bath not only cleans your baby’s skin but creates an intimate place of bonding and ritual for the day.
Quick, warm baths two to three times per week are enough to hydrate the skin and keep your baby clean. Use a soft washcloth with a fragrance-free, liquid-based mild detergent during the bath. Soap-free products are preferred since they don’t contain harsh surfactants that disrupt the outer skin layer or cause skin irritation.
Seal in the moisture from the bathwater by finishing the routine with a head-to-toe application of fragrance-free lotion or emollient. Especially in the winter months, a daily application of quality lotion or petroleum jelly is the cornerstone of a healthy skin routine. Warm the emollient to body temperature before an application to make this step even more comfortable.
Care for the derriere
The goal for diaper skincare is to keep the area clean and protected. The diaper area is a warm, humid environment exposed to waste and debris. Best care means frequent diaper changes with gentle and effective wiping.
Commercially-available disposable diapers do an excellent job of wicking away wetness from the skin and help to prevent diaper rash. Cloth diapers do not have this wicking ability and can increase the risk of rash. In addition to a good diaper, choose a wipe that effectively cleans without using harsh ingredients.
Numerous clinical studies have demonstrated that modern baby wipes are superior for cleaning the diaper area compared to cloth and water. In my practice, I recommend WaterWipes for my babies with sensitive skin. WaterWipes contain only two ingredients and have been clinically shown to reduce the incidence and shorten the duration of diaper dermatitis in both term and preterm babies.
Even with the best care, diaper rash can occur. When this happens, do your best to keep the area clean. Schedule frequent diaper changes and add in some helpful diaper-free time. While the skin is healing, be sure to frequently apply a thick, protective layer of zinc-based diaper cream or petroleum jelly to keep the irritated skin protected from additional chemicals or microorganisms that can make the rash worse.
Be sure to visit your baby’s pediatrician if the diaper rash seems to be getting painful, starts to bleed or blister, or is lasting too long.
Eczema and sensitive skin
Winter is an especially difficult season for infants with eczema. Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is one of the most common chronic skin conditions of childhood. Maintaining a healthy outer skin layer is hard for babies with eczema, leading to bouts of itchy, dry skin that come and go over time.
The most effective way to care for eczema-prone and sensitive skin is with hydration. If your baby’s skin can stay hydrated, it will be less likely to break down and become uncomfortable. Frequent application of emollients limits moisture loss and helps maintain a healthy skin pH. Especially in the winter, it’s not uncommon for some babies to need a full-body application of emollient as much as four times per day to stay hydrated.
If your baby has eczema or sensitive skin, choose lotions and emollients without added fragrance. Although many baby products have intoxicating scents that parents love, these additives are not necessary nor helpful for baby skin. At worst, they may directly irritate the skin or cause skin damage.
When eczema flares
If your baby develops a stubborn patch of red, itchy skin, don’t be hard on yourself. It’s normal for babies with eczema to have good days and bad days. Instead, turn to some additional products to help.
When eczema flare-ups occur, increase the frequency with which you apply emollients. Dry skin absorbs moisture quickly, so be sure to give it enough. In addition to moisture, over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream is a safe and effective way to manage itch and redness. Apply the medicated cream first, then apply a moisture layer on top. Use hydrocortisone treatments two times per day or as directed by your child’s doctor.
As the skin heals, be sure to avoid any soaps or unnecessary ingredients in baby skincare products. Look for products that are clinically tested and recognized by U.S. organizations.
Enjoy this winter season and all the coziness it has to offer. As always, if you have specific questions about caring for your baby, talk with a trusted healthcare provider.