Skin care for babies and infants

Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Warm water is usually all that is needed when washing a baby or infant because soap can dry out the skin. Unperfumed bath oil added to the bath helps keep the skin soft. Avoid bubble baths, which remove natural oils.

After bathing, the skin should be patted dry, including the skin folds of the armpits, groin, neck and behind the ears. A little moisturiser or aqueous cream can be used to clean the nappy area and as a moisturiser applied to dry skin after bathing, especially if your child has eczema.

In winter, children should be bathed less often as cold weather dries the skin. Woollen clothing should be avoided next to a baby's skin because it can cause itchiness and provoke eczema. Nappies should be of good-quality absorbent material and changed often.

Rashes and spots

A spotty rash on the face is quite common in young babies — it is often a sweat rash caused by their immature temperature control. Usually no treatment is needed. True infantile acne is uncommon and is due to maternal hormones that are still circulating in the baby's bloodstream and stimulating the oil glands. This can produce red bumps, pustules or even blackheads. Overheating can trigger baby acne.

Maternal hormones and harmless yeasts are also responsible for cradle cap, which manifests as thick greasy scales on a baby's scalp. These appear around six weeks of age and can last for several months. It usually clears up on its own. The scales can be removed by rubbing gently with a little vegetable oil or baby oil, combing out the flakes and then washing the child's hair with plain water or gentle baby shampoo. See a doctor if the condition persists or worsens.

Childhood eczema

Up to 30 percent of children under five years develop eczema. The Eczema Association of Australasia recommends the following management techniques.

  • Bathe the child in lukewarm water for up to five minutes using a hypo-allergenic bath oil or soapless cleanser.
  • Pat skin dry and apply a moisturising cream or ointment within three minutes. Use only hypoallergenic and unperfumed cleaners, laundry products and moisturisers.
  • Keep the child's fingernails short to prevent their scratching from breaking the skin.
  • Sweating can be an irritant, so dress the child in pure cotton clothing, which has been washed before the first wear.
  • Avoid wool and other coarse or rough-textured clothing or blankets. If you are wearing wool, put a nappy over your shoulder when holding your child.
  • Keep the child's room at an even temperature. Use a humidifier in dry or heated rooms to keep air moist.
  • If the child is allergic to dust or dust mites, use protective coverings for pillow and mattresses and wash bedclothes often in hot water. Keep pets off beds and other furniture or outside.
  • If night-time itching is a problem, use a cold, damp washcloth to soothe the child's skin, followed by a moisturiser and a sedating antihistamine (under doctor's guidance).

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