A pediatric dermatologist explains how and why babies get diaper rash—and how to stop it before it starts.
Diapering: it’s a dirty job, but hey, someone’s gotta do it (and that someone is…you.) But how can you keep your baby’s skin as safe and irritation-free as possible? And what’s the deal with diaper rashes, anyway? We asked Peter Lio, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology and Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, how to keep your kiddo’s most delicate skin clean and cared for.
Q: Why do babies get diaper rash?
A: Diaper rash has everything to do with—you guessed it—diapering: “Diapers unnaturally keep stool and urine right up against skin,” explains Lio. “Rashes can also be related to certain types of wipes which can be harsh on baby skin. Sometimes the culprit is the chemical in the wipes, other times it can be the paper of the wipes themselves—and it can be irritant or truly allergic in some cases.” (All the more reason to make sure your wipes are water-based, fragrance-free, and free of suspect chemicals). But try as you might, there will likely come a time when your little one has some sort of irritation down there. “It’s incredibly common, and the majority of children will experience it at some point,” says Lio. “The key is trying to prevent it and, if it occurs, promptly addressing it so it doesn’t cause any issues.”
Q: What does diaper rash look like, and how does it feel to babies?
A: Yikes, those poor little babies can have it rough—and it’s definitely not pretty: “Diaper rash tends to start as red, irritated skin, but can progress to true skin breakdown (open, oozing) and even become infected with yeast or bacteria,” says Lio. “It is likely very uncomfortable for babies, especially when more severe.”
Q: How often should you change your baby’s diaper to avoid irritation?
A: “Changing diapers frequently, but most importantly quickly after urine or stool seems to really help prevent and minimize irritation,” says Dr. Lio.
Q: How can you reduce the chances of getting diaper rash before it starts?
A: “Applying a thick, protective diaper cream with each diaper change is very helpful,” says Lio. Pipette Diaper Rash Cream uses plant-derived skin-calmers and 14% zinc oxide to protect the natural moisture barrier of baby’s skin, the first line of defense against irritation. And of course, make sure the baby wipes you’re using are fragrance-free and as clean and gentle as possible to reduce the risk of chafing skin.
Q: What is cream to powder best for?
A: In a word: wetness, especially when it comes to those little folds, creases, and baby rolls. “A cream to powder formulation can be wonderful for absorbing excess moisture,” says Lio; use it in folds and creases (where chafing can be an issue) to help minimize the chances of irritation.
Q: How do you deal with diaper rash and discomfort when it does show up?
A: “At the first sign of diaper rash, it’s important to take action to prevent it from getting worse,” says Lio. Here’s your rash-defeating game plan in five steps:
- Pay extra attention to your baby so diaper changes can happen fast after a dirty diaper materializes.
- Apply a thick, protective coat of baby diaper rash cream after each diaper change to help support the skin, Lio says: “We often council to not remove all of the diaper cream. Just gently remove the top soiled layer until you see clean cream, then apply more. This way the skin stays protected.”
- Smooth on an extra-liberal dose of cream right before bedtime, when the same diaper will likely be on that little bottom for a longer period of time.
- Don’t skip the baby diaper rash cream when you’re out and about. Consistency is key, so make sure you’re reapplying for on-the-go diaper changes.
- If all else fails, do as the Greeks do: “There was a study a number of years ago that showed that babies in Greece very rarely got diaper rash,” notes Lio. “One big difference was that instead of wiping with diaper changes, they would gently wash the area in the sink and pat dry. This can help prevent chafing.” If you’re able, gently wash the area at each diaper change, pat dry (no rubbing), and then reapply your diaper cream; it might be a trickier routine to master, but could help prevent additional irritation and trauma.
Q: How long does diaper rash generally last?
A: “If treated, usually just a few days,” says Lio. “However, more severe cases can persist for weeks or even months.”
Q: When does a diaper rash require a doctor’s visit?
A: “If things are worsening despite taking basic measures, if there are open sores or pustules, or if the baby appears very uncomfortable or has a fever, all of those warrant an expedited doctor visit,” says Lio.
Q: Any other diaper skin conditions parents should watch out for?
A: Candida yeast infections are a form of diaper rash, and can exist on their own or as a complication of more irritant-type rashes, explains Lio. “Rarely, certain nutritional deficiencies (particularly zinc) can cause a rash that mimics diaper rash,” says Lio. “Because it’s often due to poor absorption of zinc, this requires evaluation by an experienced doctor.” There are other even rarer skin conditions, so if things aren’t improving, it’s always important to get your baby evaluated by a pediatrician or dermatologist.
The information provided by Pipette is intended solely for educational purposes. The information is not to be used for medical diagnostic purposes and is not intended to serve as a recommendation for treatment and/or management of any medical/surgical condition. Most of all, this information should not be used in place of a physician or other qualified health provider. If you believe you or your child have a medical condition, please contact your physician immediately.