When it comes to a baby's skin, less is best. Less moisture, less chemicals, less sun and less heat equal less worry, says Susan Bayliss, MD, pediatric dermatologist at St. Louis Children's Hospital.
Dr. Bayliss also stresses that in the first few months of life skin problems are perfectly normal and even predictable. Moreover, pediatricians have the training and knowledge it takes to assess, diagnose and determine whether treatment, precaution or a good dose of patience will clear up your baby's skin problems.
For instance, baby acne is the skin's response to the baby's natural hormonal withdrawal from the mother. Generally, no treatment is necessary, and the condition disappears in a few weeks. "The best thing to do for baby acne is to keep the face clean," Dr. Bayliss says. And, she adds, there's no need to worry that the condition is a precursor of adolescent acne. "No one has ever proven a link there," she says.
Another skin condition that appears and then goes away in a few weeks is milia, those little white bumps found on up to 50 percent of newborns. "If these little cysts persist past six months, we may consider removing them. Otherwise, we leave them alone," Dr. Bayliss says.
Because it's summer, parents of some young babies may begin to see prickly heat, those pinkish-red bumps on the neck, shoulders or other areas where skin folds. But Dr. Bayliss reminds parents that this condition can occur any time of year. "Over- bundling a baby in the winter months can bring on prickly heat." A cool, dry environment usually is all you need for relief.
Diaper rash is a common skin problem brought on by prolonged contact with a wet or soiled diaper. Sometimes, a yeast infection, common after a round of antibiotics, will trigger it. Frequent changes using super-absorbent diapers help prevent the onset of diaper rash and will keep it from worsening. Giving the baby some diaper-free time to let the bottom air-dry, while avoiding the use of diaper wipes that contain alcohol, also relieves mild symptoms. If symptoms persist, an ointment containing zinc oxide, like Desitin or Diaperderm, are recommended.
Too much bathing, using scented lotions and soaps or a food allergy are some of the causes of baby eczema, scaly red patches on the cheeks or other areas of a baby's body. Pediatricians usually prescribe a hydrocortisone cream to clear the condition and advise parents to pat their babies dry and apply a fragrance-free moisturizer after bathing. In all cases, if a rash worsens visibly, its bumps appear pustular, and you can't identify the condition, Dr. Bayliss recommends consulting with a pediatrician.
Of course, summertime brings out the sun, and no one stands to lose more from skin-damaging sunburn than a baby does. "Sun damage is permanent," says Dr. Bayliss. She regularly advises parents to keep babies completely out of direct sunlight during the first six months of life. For all other young children, hats, umbrellas and a strong sunscreen specifically made for babies provide good protection. Dr. Bayliss also says that dressing babies in lightweight clothing in the summer and keeping a T-shirt or other covering on them when they're in the sun are important measures that contribute to the health of that precious, tender baby skin.
Dr. Susan Bayliss wants to help parents protect their children's skin from one of summer's most prevalent threats: the sun.
Skin Protection Tips
- Be aware of reflective surfaces, such as water and sand. On hazy days, ultraviolet light can penetrate the haze and cause sunburn.
- Avoid sun exposure during the hottest part of the day.
- Encourage sunglasses that offer maximum protection from harmful light.
- Protect skin with sunscreen/clothing, even when swimming.
- Use sun block, such as zinc oxide, on areas like the nose, ears and lips. For the rest, use lightweight clothing and a hat.
- Avoid sun exposure for infants less than 6 months old. If unavoidable, adult sunscreens can be used on infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics does recommend using them if absolutely necessary. Apply sunscreen to areas that can't be protected by clothing. Choose sunscreen that blocks UVA and UVB. DO NOT USE combination sunscreen/insect repellant since sunscreen needs to be reapplied more often.
- Sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher is suggested for children 6 months and older. Follow directions. Re-apply every two to three hours. Remember that sunscreen is not fully protective.
- Consult with a physician if taking medications, especially antibiotics or psychiatric medicines, before going out in the sun.
- Actively encourage the intake of fluids, but consult with your pediatrician before offering additional fluids to infants under one year of age.