How to Care for Newborn Skin – What To Expect

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Your new baby’s super soft skin is one of his many precious features. But since newborn skin is so sensitive, you’ll need to know what to do (or not do) when it comes to its care.
From bathing and sun exposure to weather conditions and washing infant clothing, there are lots of ways everyday life can impact your baby’s delicate skin. Here’s a quick cheat sheet for protecting your new baby’s silky skin, from that fuzzy little head down to his 10 tiny toes.
There’s conflicting information on how often to bathe your newborn baby, with pediatricians generally advising against daily baths because they can dry out baby’s delicate skin and aren’t necessary, and some dermatologists saying that bathing baby every day from the beginning can be good for his tender skin.
“Your infant doesn’t need much bathing if you wash the diaper area thoroughly during diaper changes. Three times a week during her first year may be enough,” the American Academy of Pediatrics says. “Bathing her more frequently may dry out her skin, particularly if soaps are used or moisture is allowed to evaporate from the skin.”[1]
Not to mention the fact that babies don’t get dirty enough to need daily baths until they’re crawling around and eating solid (messy!) foods. Until then, says the AAP and many pediatricians, two or three baths a week with mild soap and shampoo are plenty. 
However, some pediatric dermatologists like What to Expect Medical Review Board Member Dr. Robin Schaffran, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California, say that bathing your newborn every day may not be necessary but isn’t bad for him either. In fact, tubtime “actually puts moisture (hydration) into the skin. … Bathing daily can be a great thing for [baby’s] skin as long as it’s followed by good moisturizing.”

However, adds Dr. Schaffran, who is affiliated with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, “if you take the baby out of the tub and don’t moisturize right away to seal in that hydration, the skin will get dried out.” Applying a gentle baby moisturizer right after bathtime will not only lock in the hydration from the bathwater but is also especially important for babies with eczema and other dry skin conditions. 
Be sure to use warm, not hot, water in the tub and pat baby dry with a soft towel. Bathing your baby can be a great way to bond.
In between those rub-a-dub-dubs, practice daily spot checks with a warm, wet washcloth. Your newborn skin care routine should include sponge baths that focus on the mouth, the skin folds (where the grime tends to build up), and the diaper region. Sponge from the top down — and save the diaper area for last.
And when you’re heading out the door together, dress baby for the weather so he’s comfortable and protected. Remember to always make sure his ears, head, hands and feet are warm and protected. 
Babies should be kept out of direct sunlight until they’re 6 months old, according to the AAP. Instead, the AAP advises, “find shade under a tree, an umbrella or the stroller canopy.”[2]
And when you do head out on a sunny day, dress your newborn in protective clothing, including a cute little baby hat with a brim (aim for one that’s about 3 inches wide) to protect his sweet face and kissable cheeks.
Add in long sleeves, pants (keep it lightweight so he doesn’t get too hot!) and socks. If there’s no shade around — either from the stroller, an umbrella or a tree — use baby-safe sunscreen (a small amount on exposed areas is okay under 6 months old). Put a small dab on his face and the tops of his little hands and feet (if they’re bare), and be sure to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 (up to SPF 50). 
It’s also perfectly fine to use mineral based sunscreen in infants under 6 months if you can’t keep them shaded from the sun. These products usually list zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredients. 
Cold weather and indoor heat can conspire to dry out your baby’s skin, so take some extra precautions when the temperatures dip. Shorten his bathtime, use a fragrance-free cleanser and apply lotion or cream while his skin is still damp to lock in moisture.
If you notice rough patches on your infant’s lips or cheeks, apply a hypoallergenic moisturizer or baby ointment to soften. You can also use a cream or balm before you go outside to protect infant skin from cold air and wind. And using a humidifier during naps and at night is another great way to fight dry winter skin. Make sure to care and clean the humidifier by emptying the tank, wiping all surfaces dry, and refilling the water daily to reduce any growth of microorganisms.
To protect your baby’s skin from the sun in hot weather, dress him in a single lightweight cotton layer with long sleeves and a wide-brimmed hat. As mentioned, you can apply sunscreen to exposed skin and, if your baby will allow it, don a pair of sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection.
And to avoid heat rash, which can erupt on the skin when it’s hot and humid out, strive for outfits that are cool and breathable. Heat rash tends to break out in skin folds like the elbows, neck and diaper areas so keep these spots as dry as you can, and then skip his clothes for a while to expose the areas to the air.
A good rule of thumb here is to wash new outfits before your baby wears them as you don’t know who handled the clothes before you. While it’s a whole lot easier to use the same detergent for all members of the family, switch to a gentle, or hypoallergenic detergent that’s fragrance-free if your doctor thinks it could help clear up a skin condition.
A mosquito or two might decide your sweet baby’s skin is delicious, so keep in mind that the same type of clothing that protects newborn skin from the sun will protect it from bugs. And it’s safe to use DEET-based insect repellents on babies over 2 months old.
The AAP recommends sticking to ones that contain no more than 30 percent DEET.[3] (For babies under this age, skip the DEET and attach a mosquito netting with an elastic edge around the stroller.) 
To apply, first spray the repellent on your hands and then rub it onto baby’s exposed  skin and clothing, avoiding the mouth and eyes. Wash it off when you get back inside. 
Some manufacturers also offer combination products that have both DEET and sunscreen. However, avoid these products, as the sun protection won’t be as strong and directions will call for more frequent applications, which can expose your baby to too much DEET. 
When you’re shopping for skin care products, make a beeline for the baby section. There you’ll find an array of lotions, shampoos and soaps that are made especially for newborns (and usually with their sensitive skin in mind). 
But even though these baby products smell like they were made just for baby, (with an enticing “baby” smell), many will also include fragrances that can cause irritation or allergies. Make sure to read the ingredient list and avoid any that contain fragrance or perfume.
Other good product choices include those that are hypoallergenic and phthalate- and paraben-free. Skip powders — unless your doctor recommends one for your baby’s skin. You’ll know soon enough if your baby’s skin can’t tolerate a given product, a message that usually appears in the form of a rash.
Your baby’s soft skin will sometimes spot rashes or bumps — many of which are treatable. Here are some of the more common baby rashes:
Diaper rash. If his tush is sore and angry-looking, it’s likely a diaper rash. Make sure to keep his diaper changed, especially right after pooping (which can irritate his skin). 
Cradle cap. These crusty yellowish patches and flaking are caused by overactive glands soon after your baby’s birth. Loosen cradle cap with mineral oil and wash away any flakes with shampoo.
Infant acne. Tiny red bumps appear due to your lingering hormones in your baby’s bloodstream. To treat baby acne, skip scrubbing and soap and just wash gently with plain water.
Milia. These common little white bumps may show up on your baby’s nose, chin or cheeks, but they don’t require any treatment. They’ll disappear in a matter of weeks.
Heat rash. You might notice reddish spots and a rash on your infant’s face, neck and torso when it’s hot out. A cool bath is the best treatment (skip powders and lotions).
Infant eczema. This itchy and uncomfortable rash is typically dry and flaky. A gentle lotion on damp skin can help baby eczema, as can a cool mist humidifier.
Call your baby’s pediatrician if a rash or spots have formed blisters, seem to be spreading, are causing your infant pain or are accompanied by a fever. It’s especially important that you reach out to the doctor if he’s less than 12 weeks old.
And any newborn less than 1 month old with these symptoms should be seen right away. For mild cases of skin bumps or redness, call the doctor during office hours for guidance. Although most rashes are nothing to worry about there are those few cases that demand immediate professional care and attention. 
From the What to Expect editorial team and Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. What to Expect follows strict reporting guidelines and uses only credible sources, such as peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and highly respected health organizations. Learn how we keep our content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial policy.
March 31, 2023
Editor: Catherine Donaldson-Evans/Christine Gordon
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