We are all born with skin, the largest organ, and it plays many vital roles. Most importantly it serves as the physical barrier between the outside world and us. It provides protection against harmful UV rays; it prevents water loss, regulates body temperature and plays a major role in sensory perception.
Infant skin is different than adult skin and it undergoes a significant maturing process the moment after delivery through the first year of life. The development of the skin barrier increases with gestational age, meaning that preterm infant skin is even more fragile. Newborn skin is more susceptible to infections, heat loss, damage from chemicals and heat, and isn’t as effective at keeping things out that are supposed to stay out. I think it is most helpful to think of Infant skin as having a slightly impaired barrier.
How do we care for such fragile skin as it is still developing? Are there products we should use and ones we should avoid? How often should we bathe our babies? Can we prevent our children from having dry or diseased skin in the future?
One thing that I noticed that was different when I gave birth from when my mom delivered me in the hospital is that they do not immediately bathe the baby anymore. This is because of the special coating brand new babies have on their skin called the vernix caseosa. It is a protective coating that develops during the last trimester of gestation. It is composed of water, proteins, sebum lipids and antimicrobial peptides. The coating on the skin surface contributes to a higher skin hydration, a lower skin pH and relates to a reduced heat loss after birth. Basically I wish that protective coating were on their skin forever!
One of the most common diseases in young skin is Eczema, a disease of dry skin. This condition tends to run in families and these kids can also develop two other closely related conditions, asthma and seasonal allergies. While there is no cure for this disease, a recent study performed in the United States and the United Kingdom provides evidence that might be able to help prevent it. The study took hundreds of infants at high risk of developing eczema and showed that that daily full-body moisturizing from birth can prevent eczema.
The exact way that it prevents the disease is not fully understood, but the study proposes that emollients, moisturizing creams and ointments, correct the skin barrier and the early inflammation in at-risk infants by improving skin hydration and reducing skin permeability. This in turn leads to preventing skin dryness and cracking, as well as reducing irritation and allergic reactions. It also stops some infants from developing eczema.
Some skin cleansing tips for babies
- Use Emollient based liquid cleansers that are pH neutral or mildly acidic.
- Avoid cleansing bars or scrubbing brushes that can further damage a fragile skin barrier.
- Although they smell nice, avoid the fragranced body washes. Lavender oil can be allergenic and can further irritate dry skin.
- Limit baths to no more than every other day and bathe in luke warm water.
- Immediately following bath time, apply an emollient based, fragrance free thick moisturizer from head to toe. Moisturizers in pump bottles tend to have more preservatives in them so they will spread easier, but have less of an occlusive effect making them less effective. The thicker the better!!
- Avoid products with excessive ingredients and preservatives like formaldehydes and parabens.
- Some great products are; Cetaphil Baby, Aveeno Baby, Vanicream is one of my favorites and believe it or not good old Vaseline or Aquaphor! For those babies that already have eczema give Robathol bath oil a try.