HEALTH FIRST MEDICAL MINUTE: Your Baby’s Skin Is a Healthy Barrier – Handle With Care

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HEALTH FIRST MEDICAL MINUTE: Health First Dermatologist Vanessa Johnson, MD, says parents should consider only bathing their babies weekly and, as they get older, every other night or every third night. She says to look for fragrance-free products and avoid common allergens like Balsam of Peru and other essential oils.

A lifetime of feeling comfortable in your skin starts on Day 1.

By Health First Dermatologist Vanessa Johnson, MD

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – We adore babies’ skin, and for good reason. It’s free of blemishes and soft as flower petals.

New moms and dads have so much to think about that they should be forgiven for believing their baby’s skin is as resilient as it is supple. It’s not.

Mom and Dad, how you treat your baby’s skin in the first weeks of life can impact them later. There’s a profound study that looked at the impact of putting baby moisturizer on babies’ skin starting on Day 1 and each day after for 30 days.

In this study, researchers found moisturizers dramatically reduced the rate of eczema in children later on. Probably the most common thing that I see in kids in the clinic is childhood eczema.

I encourage parents to think of our skin as a moisture barrier. It keeps good moisture in and irritants – chemicals, bacteria and other germs, to name a few – out. Eczema is a condition I describe as a leaky barrier. It can start just weeks after birth and it can continue into adulthood. About 1 in 10 of us will develop eczema at some point, probably in childhood.

When children have really bad eczema, it can affect their sleep, even their learning and how they perform at school.

So changing how we treat that skin barrier is really important. Start with bathing.

HEALTH FIRST DERMATOLOGIST VANESSA JOHNSON, MD, says the care that parents take with their babies’ skin in the first weeks of life can have a positive impact later. (Health First image)

Wash With Care

After so many years of bathing ourselves daily, it’s natural to think a lighter version of that is right for our baby.

Babies’ skin doesn’t require any of the scrubbing or half the soap we use ourselves. They usually need a bath only once a week, or, as they get a little older, every third night or every other night. So, first, avoid overbathing.

And then, save the soap and cleansing for the end of the bath. Let them enjoy the warm water and play before soaping. Soapy water really dehydrates their skin and can set them up for eczema and other skin conditions.

The gentler and simpler you wipe them down, the better. Get a microfiber cloth, never a loofah or plastic exfoliator – babies don’t need exfoliating – and wipe where they accumulate food or milk residue. You can apply a little bit of fragrance-free liquid soap to the cloth because you definitely want to wash those areas, but do so gently.

Apply ointments and moisturizers when they’re fresh from the bath.

Dermatologist Vanessa Johnson, MD, looks closely at the skin of a 15-month-old patient using a dermatoscope, a device that uses light and a magnifying lens to show details in the outer layer of skin that would not be visible to the eye. (Health First image)

Pick Good Products

Don’t babies smell wonderfully? I fell in love with the way my first baby smelled and never got over it – not after the second, or the third. So along with gentle bathing, here’s a few product tips, beginning with – choose fragrance-free.

Fragrance oils can be a little bit disguised. It might say geranium, or lemon, or citronella. In adult products I don’t usually caution patients against it, but I would really avoid these in baby products.

Of course, I would be on the lookout for phthalates or parabens. The first is a plastics stabilizer, the second a preservative used in adult cosmetics and shampoos.

I also look out for talc because we know there’s an association between perineal talc powders and ovarian cancer. And I won’t buy products with Balsam of Peru, one of the most common skin allergens.

Not everyone develops an allergy to Balsam of Peru, but especially with our children, I always ask, what can we do to eliminate some of the most common allergens and irritants? There are almost always options.

So what do I recommend? For soaps, I like Aquaphor and CeraVe. For moisturizers, the Vanicream moisturizing cream for baby. For diaper rash, Aquaphor’s 3 in 1 diaper rash cream.

So Precious!

Mom and Dad, you’re working so hard, and you’re doing a great job. Just thinking about the plans, the details and the surprises you’re juggling makes me wince before tapping out advice.

But this is important.

If I had to get all of it into a tweet, I might try this: Babies’ skin is so precious! Wipe it softly with a cloth and water. Be stingy with soap in the bath. Avoid fragrance, and a few other things.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Health First’s Vanessa Johnson, MD, is a board-certified Dermatologist with research experience in the epidemiology of skin disease, cutaneous oncology, medical education, and global health. To make an appointment, visit
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