Baby Skin Information

Mother and baby hand.
Many baby skin conditions clear up on their own.
Marili Forastieri/Photodisc/Getty Images

If you don't have a lot of experience with babies, you probably expect them to look like they do in television commercials, with perfectly smooth, soft skin. But the reality of baby skin is not always as pretty as a picture. Much to most new parents' surprise, rashes, bumps or discoloration occur quite frequently on newborn skin. Fortunately, most baby skin issues really aren't problems at all but are merely a normal part of infant development. Most of the time, they can be resolved easily or prevented altogether.

Millia, which are blocked oil glands, sometimes appear as little white bumps on a baby's nose or cheeks. These bumps usually disappear within a few weeks of birth. However, pimples -- called baby acne -- may persist for a longer period but will eventually disappear without treatment. Hormones passed along from the mother toward the last part of pregnancy are usually assumed to be the cause of this unsightly but harmless condition [source: Baby Center].


Cradle cap, another common baby skin problem, is a greasy scalp condition that normally resolves itself within the infant's first few months of life. Cradle cap can travel to other parts of the body, appearing as a yellowish, crusty rash on the face, neck or armpits or behind the ears. A gentle shampooing every few days will help to get rid of the problem. Another solution is to gently rub a bit of baby oil onto the affected areas. Use a baby brush to brush it out or wash it off [source: Haas].

"Stork bites" and "angel kisses" are also normal and usually disappear without treatment. These small, red marks at the back of the neck are blood vessels. Mongolian spots are flat, gray-blue spots on babies with darker skin tones. These, too, are normal and usually fade on their own, although it may take several years [source: WebMD: Rashes].

Most baby skin issues are relatively benign and will resolve themselves in time. But, some other, more severe conditions can crop up that require a doctor's care. Read on to learn more about what you can expect from a newborn baby's skin.


Baby Skin Facts

A baby's skin goes through a number of changes in the first days and weeks of his life, before it settles down and turns into that soft, smooth skin parents adore. In the first minutes of life, a baby's skin can have a red, blue or gray tint, and it will be wrinkly. It might be covered with a fine hair called lanugo. The waxy coating that covers a baby at birth -- and was there to protect the fetus from amniotic fluid -- is called vernix. The lanugo and vernix will both disappear in the first days of life without any special care [source: Haas].

An estimated 10 to 20 percent of babies may have a run-in with eczema before age 1 [source: Haas]. Eczema is an itchy, red rash. It could crop up just about anywhere, including behind the knees or in the crook of the elbow, and on the chest, face and limbs. This condition can result from contact with an irritant, like a fabric, detergent or even saliva. Eczema also can be caused by allergies. Your pediatrician may prescribe a steroid cream to treat eczema. Some other things you can do at home to prevent more eczema outbreaks on your baby's skin include limiting baths and using just water or very mild soap when you do bathe your child. Also, use a baby detergent for clothes, but don't use a fabric softener [source: Haas].


At some point, just about every parent will pull off a diaper and find a rash on her baby's bottom. Do you need to call the doctor? Read on to find out how to handle this common problem as well as how to avoid other infant skin problems.

Dangers to a Baby's Skin

Diaper rash is red, often bumpy and can appear anywhere the diaper touches. If you've sailed through the first few months of your child's life without incident, you might think your little one has avoided this uncomfortable condition. But be aware that diaper rash can crop up at any time. A baby is most susceptible to diaper rash between eight and 10 months of age, but developing the condition anytime during the first 15 months of life is common [source: Mayo Clinic]. Here are some triggers:

  • Antibiotics
  • Diarrhea
  • New products -- wipes, diapers, laundry detergent
  • Yeast or bacterial infection
  • The use of plastic pants over diapers [source: Mayo Clinic]

Most of the time, you can successfully treat diaper rash at home. Changing your baby's diaper more frequently, using just water and a washcloth for cleansing rather than baby wipes, and exposing your baby's bottom to air now and again should clear up mild cases. Applying ointments with petroleum jelly or zinc oxide can also help protect the sensitive diaper area when a mild rash exists -- it may even prevent one from forming.


See a doctor if your home treatments don't clear up the rash or if your baby develops a fever, blisters, boils, a rash outside the diaper area or a discharge from the rash itself [source: Mayo Clinic].

Infants and sun do not mix. Especially in the first six months of a baby's life, it's important to keep a little one out of the sun entirely. If that's not possible, keep exposed skin to a minimum and use a small amount of gentle sunscreen on the exposed areas. Babies older than six months should also be kept out of the sun as much as possible, but their skin is not quite as fragile as a younger infant's is [source: Mayo Clinic: Sunscreen].

Keeping baby covered and protected from the sun is important, but it's also important not to overdo things. Overheating a baby's skin can lead to prickly heat rash, little red bumps in areas such as the neck, armpits and diaper area. Even in cold weather, a baby only needs one more layer than what an adult is wearing [source: CBS].

Read on to learn how often babies should take baths -- the answer might surprise you.


Baby Skin Care

A toddler might play in a sandbox, make mud pies or smear pudding in his hair at lunch time. An older child might be involved in sports or spend time riding his bike after school. For these children, a daily bath or shower is probably a necessity. But babies are a different story. Daily baths are not necessary for infants and might even be harmful.

A baby's skin makes oils to protect its outer layer. If parents wash that protection away, problems like eczema might crop up. A sponge bath two or three times a week for an infant's first month -- possibly even less for newborns with darker skin -- is sufficient. You might rinse your child's mouth and diaper area in between sponge baths if needed, but you don't need baby soap at this young age. Water alone should do the trick [source: WebMD: Tips].


Less is also more in regards to baby products. Fragrances are frequently to blame for skin irritation. Chemicals and dyes can be a problem, too. Look for detergents and baby products that are mild and formulated for babies. Use a baby detergent to wash your child's clothing and bedding before you use it, and skip the dryer sheets [source: WebMD: Tips]. Read labels carefully: "Hypoallergenic" means a product may be less likely to cause a skin irritation, but it doesn't have anything to do with how mild that product is.

When it comes to baby's skin, less is usually best. By eliminating harsh soaps or detergents and keeping baths to a minimum, you can increase your baby's chances of having healthy skin. To learn more skin care strategies, check out the links on the following page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Mom and Baby Skin Care." (Accessed 9/24/09)
  • Baby Center. "Baby Acne." (Accessed 9/24/09)
  • CBS. "Keeping Baby's Skin Soft." 1/28/08. (Accessed 9/24/09)
  • Clarke, April. "The Sun's Effect on Baby's Skin." (Accessed 9/24/09)
  • Family Physicians. "Diaper Rash." (Accessed 9/24/09)
  • Haas, Elizabeth. "How to Care for Baby Skin." Parents. (Accessed 9/24/09)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Diaper Rash." 3/14/08. (Accessed 9/24/09)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Sunscreen: Answers to Your Burning Questions." 3/27/09. (Accessed 9/24/09)
  • WebMD. "Baby Skin Care Slideshow: Simple Tips to Keep Baby's Skin Healthy." (Accessed 9/24/09)
  • WebMD. "Baby Skin Care: Tips for Your Newborn." 8/08/08. (Accessed 9/24/09)
  • WebMD. "What Baby Skin Care Products Do You Need for Your Newborn?" 8/08/08. (Accessed 9/24/09)
  • WebMD. "Your Newborn's Skin and Rashes." 3/15/06. (Accessed 9/24/09)