The paradoxes of language – or of marketing. Having skin like a baby’s is synonymous with having soft, near-perfect skin. Cosmetic firms, in fact, sell this concept in their formulas. However, the skin of newborns – much thinner than that of adults and so more sensitive – tends to have marks, redness, peeling, dryness and pimples. Nothing serious, though, that cannot be remedied with some basic care.
Nappy rash, cradle cap and milk spots are some of the terms that parents quickly learn within weeks of the birth of a baby. These are not serious conditions and merely require basic care and patience, but they produce the misleading feeling, especially in new parents, that they are doing something wrong. The conditions appear shortly after parents begin to notice, in the first days of a baby's life, that their baby’s skin is not perfect.
Patience is the key
A baby’s skin, for instance, may turn a worrisome yellowish colour because of jaundice, a common condition in newborns that is caused by excess bilirubin (a normal byproduct of the breakdown of red blood cells). It will disappear by itself after a few weeks or can be treated with phototherapy.
Another skin problem is that pink or darker-coloured birthmarks may develop. These do not require treatment, as they are typically harmless and disappear on their own in the first years of life. However, parents do tend to worry that their baby may always have that unfortunate mark on, say, their eyelid.
Then there are what are known as milk spots. About 40% of newborns develop these spots, which often appear on the nose, cheeks and around the eyes. Again, parents just need to be patient and wait for them to go away. They should not be treated with creams or by rubbing or, of course, by bursting them, as this could damage the baby's skin.
Careful with nappies
In contrast, a condition that does require treatment is nappy rash, mainly produced by the irritant action of urine and faeces on the skin and further aggravated by the friction of the nappy and excessive dampness.
To avoid nappy rash, change the baby often, clean the area (front to back) with water or using a disposable wipe and apply a restorative cream indicated for this condition. These creams are based on different ingredients; zinc oxide is the best known, but products with shea butter or calendula can also be used. What matters is that the product is hypoallergenic and suitable for the skin of babies.
By the same token, use a product specifically formulated for the skin of babies to treat cradle cap, which typically consists of yellowish flakes that appear on the scalp, eyebrows or folds of the arms, legs or ears from around the first or second month of life.
Do not remove the flakes, just keep the area moisturized. Midwives recommend almond oil, but there are also special – although not exactly inexpensive – shampoos that clear the condition up quickly. Cradle cap also cures in its own good time – it tends to disappear, in fact, in the first year.
See a doctor
Eczema or atopic dermatitis is another matter. This inflammation of the dermis produces redness and intense itching and is usually accompanied by dry flaky skin. Some experts believe that the condition is due to a defect in the maturation of skin cells.
It usually affects the face, hair, hands and ears. A visit to the pediatrician is necessary in order to know which treatment is best. To avoid triggering the dermatitis, the baby's skin should be moisturized daily, extreme temperatures should be avoided and clothes should be washed with mild detergents.
Basic skin care
To sum up, to care for your baby’s skin, always have to hand a moisturizing and protective body cream, a restorative cream for the nappy area, and a neutral gel for use at bathing, which does not have to be daily but should be in warm water and brief.
After the bath thoroughly dry the baby without rubbing. Cologne and lotions may be used, but should be applied to clothing, not to the skin, and should not contain alcohol or any other irritant.
In summer protect babies from the sun, but during the first six months, preferably cover them up with clothing rather than using sunscreen. The same applies to insect repellent: if possible use mosquito nets, and, even if the baby is bitten by a mosquito, there is no need to do anything, as it's not serious.