Dry skin in babies - what helps?
When we think of babies, soft, delicate skin usually springs to mind. However, if a newborn has areas of dry skin, redness or flaky skin, young parents in particular are quick to become concerned. Is it an allergic rash or could it even be neurodermatitis? Don't worry: Dry skin in babies is more common than you think and is usually harmless.
Dry skin in babies
Many babies get dry skin at least once in the earliest stages of their life. Don't forget that, for many months, your baby was swimming in amniotic fluid. Just before birth, the so-called vernix caseosa coats your baby's skin with moisture and protects it from infections during the birthing process. A newborn's skin is not yet as developed as an adult's - it has to adapt first and is more sensitive to environmental influences. This usually manifests as dryness.
Dry skin is not usually dangerous for your baby, however, it can be unpleasant for your little one if there is also dandruff, or the skin is flaky or itchy. If the skin is extremely dry, in rare cases this can also be a symptom of a skin disease, neurodermatitis.
What causes dry skin in babies?
There are a number of different reasons for dry skin in babies. Most often, dry skin is due to a normal adjustment process that takes place after birth. The old, uppermost layers of the skin, which are used floating in amniotic fluid, fall off, giving way to the "new" skin which is better suited to life outside the womb.
Over the next few years, your little one's skin will continue to be relatively sensitive. Because the very nature of a child's skin makes it prone to dryness and moisture loss. It is, of course, much thinner than adult skin. The uppermost layer in particular, the stratum corneum, is still functionally developing and is highly permeable. This means care products and moisture can of course penetrate the skin much faster, however, are also quickly lost if the skin is exposed to any irritations.
Furthermore, the natural lipid layer and the protective acid mantle are not yet fully developed, hence are still unable to protect the skin from external influences. For example, a baby's skin is sensitive to the following:
- Dry air due to heating
- Wind and cold
- Pressure and friction
- Urine and faeces in your baby's nappy
Depending on the respective cause, sensitive baby skin tends towards dandruff, flakiness, redness and dryness or a weeping rash.
If your baby has a dry scalp
If your baby has a dry scalp, this can also have different causes. Scaly skin on the scalp that has a greasy, yellowish appearance is a sign of cradle cap, whereas inflamed, weeping areas are a symptom of milk crust. Whilst cradle cap is usually harmless and heals on its own after a few months, milk crust is an early stage of neurodermatitis in babies. As both skin diseases are frequently confused, in case of doubt, you should always seek the advice of a paediatrician or dermatologist, who can make an exact diagnosis.
Recognising dry skin in your baby
Dry areas of skin in babies fall off quickly. The skin initially feels rougher than normal. Later on, the skin becomes flaky and has a slightly cracked appearance before it falls off – this looks something like a sunburn, but is in fact harmless. These abnormalities usually appear on your baby's face or abdomen, however, they can cover the entire body.
What can you do if your child has dry skin?
If your newborn has dry skin which is in the shedding process described above shortly after birth, you have two options as a parent. You can wait until the old layer of skin has fallen off, or you may choose to treat the dry areas of skin a little more intensively. As moisturising can only benefit your baby's skin, you should play it safe and use a baby cream to treat dry skin.
If your baby starts to scratch, apply a moisturising product to the areas of dry skin to soothe them. Keep your child's fingernails cut short and clean, to prevent injury if they scratch themselves
Which creams can you use to treat dry skin on your baby or child?
Dry baby skin which is not sore, raw or caused by an inflammatory disease, can be treated using a light and gentle care product. At first, it's best to ignore the motto "the more the better" and to avoid the subsequent use of a rich moisturising cream or oil. Instead, a thin cream or lotion is often enough for a baby's skin, provided that it is applied every day. Learn more about how to cream your baby easily.
Oily care products in the form of nappy creams or barrier/winter creams can be applied to provide additional protection from inflammation in the nappy area, or to the face in the autumn and winter. These creams are specially formulated to leave a film on the skin's surface, which protects it from cold and irritations.
You should also use skincare products for children that only contain high-quality ingredients. Mineral oils, petroleum jelly and silicones do appear to make the skin silky smooth, however, they leave a film on the skin which means it is unable to breathe. This can make any existing skin problems worse. Instead, the use of an oil-water formulation based on plant oils, such as safflower oil, is recommended.
Dry baby skin after a bath
For purely hygienic reasons, it is usually sufficient to bath a baby once a week. However, if your child loves being in the water, you can give him or her a bath a few times a week, or even every day.
If your baby has dry skin, especially after a bath, this could well be the cause. Commercially available bubble bath products are taboo for babies, as they are not specially formulated for sensitive children's skin and can dry it out. Bath oils are also not recommended - they make it harder to hold your baby. It is best to use a mild, soap-free bath product which has been specially formulated for babies and children, or a special shower product for little ones. Water that is too hot dries out the skin. A temperature between 36°C and 38°C is best for bathing your baby.
Avoid rubbing your child with a towel after bathing and instead, gently pat him dry. The friction from rubbing causes further damage to the skin.
Dry skin in babies due to neurodermatitis
Atopic eczema - also know as neurodermatitis - is very common in babies and children. If one parent already suffers from it, then the risk of the newborn also having this disease increases significantly.
The symptoms of this non-infectious disease are redness, dry, flaky skin and pruritus, which often first appears on the head and face, then later on, may appear on the rest of the body. In neurodermatitis, the usually protective skin barrier of your baby is weakened: Without treatment, the skin rapidly loses moisture and dries out, whilst external allergens can easily penetrate the skin, causing irritation.
Preventing dry skin in your baby
The best way to prevent dry skin in your baby is to rub in a light lotion. You should also make sure that your baby's skin is protected every day and is exposed to as few irritations as possible.
- In the summer, sea water, chlorine, direct sunlight and air-conditioning are the main culprits for dry skin for your baby.
- In the winter, moving between a cold wind and dry air due to heating cause irritation.
- Many items of clothing are treated with chemicals during the manufacturing process. For this reason, wash all baby clothing before its first use, to remove any possible contaminants.
- Use a fragrance-free detergent to wash the clothes.
- Make sure that your baby's clothes do not fit too tightly, are made from a soft fabric and do not scratch baby's skin.
- You should bathe your baby for no longer than ten minutes and the maximum water temperature should not exceed 38°C.
- After every bath, massage a gentle skincare product into your baby's skin.
- Make sure that your child drinks plenty of fluids.