Skin is a special body part that fulfils a number of functions: it guards the body against the negative effects of external factors, it plays an important role in respiration, thermoregulation, excretion, water management and immune processes. It is an important sense organ – especially for a newborn baby that is to explore the world around.
Baby skin vs adult skin
Baby skin matures until the baby is around three. Only after three years does it resemble adult skin – both in terms of anatomy and function. Until then, it is very delicate, sensitive, dry, with a clearly visible network of blood vessels underneath.
Careful skincare routine in newborns is essential as their skin isn’t properly prepared to protect itself – it is significantly thinner, less flexible and lighter than adult skin, meaning that it is more likely to be affected by bacteria, viruses, chemicals (e.g. ingredients of cosmetics or laundry detergents), UV radiation, and more susceptible to drying out, irritation or rash. Sweat glands and sebaceous glands are still developing which is why it is more difficult for babies to adapt to high temperatures and why they easily become overheated. There is also a noteworthy disproportion between their skin surface area and body weight – babies lose significantly more water through evaporation than adult people which makes for fast absorption of substances that come into contact with the skin. Babies can quickly lose heat (reduced body temperature) and absorb it equally fast (overheating).
Baby skincare routine is based on a few simple rituals that boil down to cleaning and moisturising. These rituals are pleasant for both the baby and parents, they help them to bond and build a sense of security.
Naturally, the basic ritual is bathing. Baths are not recommended in the first days of baby’s life. During the early months you don’t need to bathe your baby every day provided that you thoroughly clean their genital area after each diaper change (the skin is this area requires special care due to frequent irritation or diaper rash). Daily baths become a must during warm summer days and when your child starts to eat and move around on their own.
Before you start, organise the space around you and make sure that all required accessories (baby care products, towel) are within arm’s reach (you don’t need to bathe your baby in the bathroom – it is even more convenient to do it in the baby’s room where there is a changing table, bed and a chest of drawers with the baby’s clothes and skincare products). The temperature in the room should oscillate around 23-24 degrees while the ideal water temperature is 37 (you can use a special thermometer to measure it). You don’t need much water – if the baby has shoulders well covered by water, it means there is enough of it. For safety’s sake, you can place a non-slip mat on the bottom of the tub.
Remember that you should support the baby’s head with your left hand while you place them in the tub and during the bath – use your right hand to support the buttocks, and then bathe the baby starting with the head. Keep water from getting into the baby’s eyes, also protect the belly button until it heals. You should avoid using wash mitts – they are hard to boil or wash.
It is best if you clean the baby’s face with a cotton swab wetted in boiled water even before the bath. You can do it once every day, unless your baby spills – if so, you need to react quickly before the sour milk irritates the skin. In these situations you can try cleaning your baby’s face with baby wipes. If your baby’s face is dry and red, you should apply a cream (not a baby oil as it may get into the eyes) on it. The eyes, too, should be wiped with a cotton swab wetted in boiled water (one swab for each eye).
After you remove the baby out of the tub, dry their skin with a soft towel – don’t rub it. Give special attention to the groin area, the spaces between toes and fingers and folds.
Baby care products
The sensitive and thin skin of your baby easily absorbs good as well as bad substances from the external environment. This is why it is so important to opt for the right baby care products. Baby cosmetics should be fragrance free and contain no artificial colours or preservatives or (in case of babies susceptible to skin allergies)allergens. You can opt for approved baby care cosmetics suitable for use from first days of life. Still, even the most delicate products for newborns can cause irritation. If the baby develops any spots, lumps, redness or swelling, it means that the product is not right for them and you should stop using it. You should opt for products of one brand – a similar list of ingredients will make it easier to identify the source of problem.
During the first month of your baby’s life you should opt for a delicate soap with a slightly acidic pH. Other skincare products essential at this stage include baby wet wipes and a diaper rash cream to protect the baby’s bottom that often comes into contact with a dirty diaper. A proven way to avoid diaper rash is exposing the baby’s bottom to air – several minutes of air time while lying or crawling will be fun for your baby and good for their skin.
After the first month elapses you can start using more skincare products: a powder and a delicate shampoo, and replace the soap with a baby wash. The bathtime products should contain substances that will help moisturise your baby’s skin.
You should remember about moisturising after every bath – a warm skin easily absorbs nutrients. It is best to use baby care products that contain plant oils and vitamin E. You can choose from creams, lotions, milks and oils. The latter one is applied on a moist skin – it helps to retain 10 times as much moisture as other products. Preferably, you should use the same products as your baby – this way you will reduce the risk of allergy or irritation through baby’s contact with your skin. You shouldn’t apply excessive amounts of the product. Don’t use moisturising products in combination with a powder (they will roll and cause discomfort to the baby).
Protection from sun and freezing temperatures
Baby skin is sensitive and it can easily become burnt (10-15 minutes in the sun is enough to suffer a burn) resulting in dehydration, sun stroke, and in the long term – cancer. Children under 3 should never sunbathe. As a matter of fact, they should stay out of the sun. It doesn’t mean that they should be kept locked at home, you just need to follow a few simple rules:
- Don’t take your baby out of the house during peak sun hours (11-15)
- Make sure your baby stays in the shade (a sun umbrella for baby stroller might be useful)
- Put a hat or scarf on your baby’s head
- Around 30 minutes before you go out apply a thick layer of (ideally, mineral) UVA and UVB sunscreen on baby’s exposed body parts. Preferably the sunscreen should have an SPF 50+. It should be used even if the baby stays in the shade
- Apply a new layer of the sunscreen every 2-3 hours
- Sun protection remains important during winter months (snow reflects sunlight and it is easy to get burns)
You should always apply a sunscreen on your baby’s face regardless of the weather. The sunscreen used during winter should be more greasy and contain no water. It should contain protective, moisturising and soothing substances (beeswax, panthenol, fatty acids) and UV filter.
Fabrics that often cause allergies
Aside from strictly care-related rituals, the condition of the baby’s skin is determined by the use of high-quality breathable diapers and use of appropriate set of clothes.
Remember that baby clothes must be above all else comfortable, made of soft fabrics. Avoid artificial, non-breathable, wool fabrics, metal elements and clothes that are too small. Use special laundry detergents and rinse thoroughly. Make sure that you don’t overdress your baby – it is enough for them to have one more layer than you do. Check regularly if your baby isn’t too warm or too cold by touching their neck.
By following the rules of proper skincare you will ensure that your baby’s skin is naturally smooth and resilient and your baby is comfortable and healthy.