Kids Health Info

Skincare for babies and young children

  • Babies' skin is thinner, more fragile and more sensitive than adults' skin. It is also less resistant to bacteria and harmful substances in the environment, so can be easily irritated.

    You can take the following steps to help look after and protect your baby's skin to avoid skin problems in the future.

    Bathing your baby

    Bath your baby in warm water every day. A capful of fragrance-free bath oil containing light liquid paraffin may be added. Do not use soap, as this will dry out the skin. Use a mild, gentle non-soap cleanser if required. These products are very effective in cleansing your baby's skin and are available from your pharmacy. Avoid bubble bath as it removes natural oils from the skin. Avoid antibacterial and perfumed soaps as they may irritate the skin.

    Moisturising your baby

    Use a good quality moisturiser (purchased from a pharmacy) such as sorbolene, aqueous cream or paraffin immediately after the bath to increase skin hydration. Thicker creams and ointments are more effective than lotions. If your baby's skin usually seems dry, a moisturiser may need to be applied two to four times a day.

    Care for the nappy area

    The nappy area is exposed to constant moisture, wrapping and rubbing, which may irritate and damage the skin and cause nappy rash. To prevent this, change your baby's nappy frequently:

    • Use disposable nappies so the moisture is absorbed quickly, leaving the skin dry and less susceptible to breakdown.
    • Washing with lukewarm water and a Rediwipe (similar to a 'chux' type cloth) or cotton wool is recommended.
    • Aqueous or sorbolene creams can be used to clean the nappy area.
    • Apply a nappy rash cream in a thick layer at every nappy change.
    • Talcum powder is not necessary.
    • Allow your baby as much 'nappy off" time as possible.

    Cord care

    The newborn cord should be kept clean and dry. Clean the area using plain water and cotton buds. There is no need to use antiseptic or alcohol wipes as this will prolong the separation of the cord. The cord will usually separate in seven to ten days. If the area around the cord is inflamed or has an offensive smell, see your doctor.

    What should my baby wear?

    Light, loose clothing made of cotton is best. Woolen clothing over the top of cotton clothing is okay, but should not be in direct contact with your baby's skin as it may make it itchy. Avoid doonas and padded sleeping bags as they may overheat your child.

    Sun exposure

    When outdoors, light clothing, hats, sunshades on prams and shade is the best protection against harmful UV. When necessary, a broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 should be applied to exposed areas of skin.

    Care of the hair and nails

    Most young babies' hair does not require shampooing. If shampoo is going to be used, a gentle ph neutral cleanser is recommended. Nails of newborn babies are often very soft and may not require cutting for the first few months. If needed, you may gently peel the growing edge of the nail or use very small baby nail clippers with a protective guard.

    Cradle cap

    Cradle cap is a common condition that affects a baby's scalp, and is caused by a build up of natural oils and dry skin. Your baby's skin may appear red and scaly, but not itchy. Crusty patches may appear. You should remove the crust by massaging your baby's scalp with dermeze (available from your pharmacy) and leaving on for a few hours or overnight. When the crust is soft, gently remove with a comb. If your baby's skin becomes itchy, consider seeing your doctor.

    Key points to remember

    • Do not use soap. Use a soap-free wash if needed.
    • When the skin is dry, apply a moisturiser at least once a day.
    • Try not to overheat your baby - use cotton fabrics for clothing and bedding.
    • If your baby has cradle cap, soften the crust and remove with a comb.

    For more information

    Developed by the RCH Dermatology.  First published: March 2011

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This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.