Along with feeding and sleeping tips, you usually hear lots of dos and don’ts about how to care for newborn skin. But the hints and tips are a little harder to come by as newborn becomes baby, and baby becomes toddler.
So how do baby skin care needs change as baby grows? WebMD got tips from the experts, covering everything from diaper rash and ointments to soaps, sunscreen, and baby powders.
Taking Care of Baby and Toddler Skin: Lotions
Many little ones get dry skin and rashes. Fortunately there are lots of treatments available. If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between ointments, creams, and lotions, the answer is simple: Thickness — meaning how much water they contain. Ointments and creams tend to be heavy or greasy, and very good at locking in moisture. Ointments such as petroleum jelly and creams have almost no water content. Lotions are on the other end of the scale, smoothing on easily and disappearing quickly. They have a high water content and very low oil content, so they evaporate easily.
To protect an infant’s more delicate skin, “I usually recommend ointments and creams for babies, because lotions aren’t often thick enough,” says Tanya R. Altmann, MD, pediatrician, and author of Mommy Calls: Dr. Tanya Answers Parents’ Top 101 Questions About Babies and Toddlers. “Another reason ointments work best for babies, is that usually a baby doesn’t mind being slathered in a greasy ointment, but toddlers often do.”
That’s why for toddlers (and adults), creams or lotions are often the best rash or dry skin solution. You’ll lock in the most moisture when you apply any ointment, cream, or lotion within three minutes of bath or shower.
Taking Care of Baby and Toddler Skin: Powders
Many experts suggest that, no matter what baby’s age, it’s a good idea to steer clear of using baby powder or cornstarch and cornstarch-based powders on your little one’s bottom.
Cornstarch-based powders can promote yeast growth. But the key reason to avoid cornstarch or talcum powders is that they’re easy to inhale and may damage baby’s lungs, causing breathing problems, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“Baby powder is no longer recommended,” Altmann tells WebMD, “and frankly not really needed for anything. Diaper ointments are used to prevent and treat diaper rash and other creams and ointments are used to prevent and treat skin irritation.”
Taking Care of Baby and Toddler Skin: Soaps
Newborns and babies have sensitive skin, so it makes sense to opt for mild body soaps and shampoos when bathing baby. Until baby is older, avoid:
- Perfumed soaps, lotions, and shampoos
- Antibacterial soaps and lotions
- Deodorant soaps
- Laundry soaps with perfumes and dyes
Yet, for the majority of toddlers, anything goes.
“You can use the same soaps the family uses,” says Altmann, herself a mother of two. But because anyone — toddler, teen, or adult — can react to new soaps and shampoos, keep an eye out for redness or irritation whenever you switch products.
Taking Care of Baby and Toddler Skin: Sunscreen
Newborns and babies are very sun-sensitive and they burn easily. But most experts recommend that babies under 6 months not wear any sunscreen, due to possible allergic reactions.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that just a dab of sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher can be used on a newborn’s cheeks and hands when clothing and natural shade doesn’t provide sun protection. They recommend these tips for protecting newborns and young babies from the sun:
- Have baby wear a brimmed hat that shades their neck.
- Keep baby covered in loose-fitting, tightly-woven clothes.
- Keep baby in the shade when out and about, and remember that the sun easily reflects off of sand, snow, and sidewalk.
For toddlers and infants older than 6 months, it’s considered safe to liberally apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher, one that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Apply the sunscreen even on cloudy days, and remember to get those easy-to-forget spots like the rims of the ears, the lips, behind the knees, and the tops of the feet and hands.
And no matter what your little one’s age, all children (and adults) should follow these tips:
- Avoid exposure to the sun during its peak intensity between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going into the sun
- Reapply the sunscreen every two hours
- Stay covered up when that makes sense — even if you have sunscreen on.
Taking Care of Baby and Toddler Skin: Treating Rashes
When dealing with rashes, you’ll probably have a busier, bulkier arsenal of creams and ointments for your newborn and baby. That’s because babies are more inclined to diaper rash, toddlers less so.
“It’s true, newborns do have more diaper rash,” Altmann says, but fortunately the tips for dealing with it are the same for newborns and for older babies:
- Change baby’s diaper often
- Expose baby’s bare bottom to the air for as long as possible
- Don’t put baby’s diaper on too tightly — but don’t put it on too loosely either
- Slather on diaper rash creams and ointments after each diaper change
- Avoid using baby wipes with perfumes or alcohol, which can be irritating to an infant’s skin.
The rash tips for toddlers are a little different. “Their skin is often not as sensitive,” says Altmann, and generally toddlers are upright and moving around, in less close contact with their damp diaper.
If there is a rash and you “notice your toddler has irritation or redness, apply an ointment,” says Altmann, “but I often tell parents that in general if a rash isn’t bothering the child it’s usually not something serious.”
Your best bet for your toddler is a wait-and-see attitude. Give your pediatrician a call, then keep an eye on the rash for a few days. “If the rash starts getting worse, come on in,” says Altmann.
Taking Care of Baby and Toddler Skin: Bath Time
One of the places where toddler, baby, and newborn skin care converge is during bath time. Or lack of it.
“A lot of people don’t know that babies, infants, and toddlers don’t need a bath everyday,” Altmann tells WebMD. Unlike mom or dad, little ones aren’t jogging, mowing the lawn, or working on the car, so they just don’t get as dirty. Altmann tells parents that having a bath a couple times a week is enough.
And when you do bathe your little one — or yourself, for that matter — many skin care experts suggest using soap only on the areas of the body that actually get dirty, such as feet, underarms, and genitals. Opt for a warm water rinse everywhere else.
How you care for your little one’s skin depends on your child, says Altmann. “Some kids may be fine with all kinds of skin care, and some may need more specialized care.”