Kids Health Info

Skincare for babies

  • Babies' skin is thinner, more fragile and more sensitive than adults' skin. It is also less resistant to bacteria and triggers that can irritate skin (e.g. wool, heat).

    The skin includes a barrier that prevents the loss of too much moisture, and protects the skin from harmful germs or irritants. Appropriate cleansing, moisturising and sun protection will help maintain your baby's skin barrier, and prevent skin problems in the future.

    Preterm infants (less than 37 weeks gestation) have an immature skin barrier and may require special skin care. Your GP or medical team can provide recommendations based on your child’s gestation at birth.

    Care at home

    Bathing your baby

    Bath your baby in warm water for 5–10 minutes every day. The water temperature should be around 37°C.

    Do not use soap, as this will dry out your baby's 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, and avoid antibacterial and perfumed soaps as they may irritate the skin. A capful of fragrance-free baby bath oil may be added to the bath to prevent the water drying your baby's skin out and replace the skin's natural oils.

    After the bath, pat the skin dry, paying attention to skin creases. Using baby powder or talcum powder is not recommended.

    Moisturising your baby

    Apply thick, non-fragranced moisturiser all over the body during – or immediately after – the bath to prevent dry skin. Thicker creams and ointments are more effective than lotions. Avoid moisturisers containing plant or food products (e.g. vegetable, nut or olive oils), as these may disrupt the skin barrier and lead to allergies. Always try to avoid contact with the eyes.

    Prevent contamination of your moisturiser (e.g. by re-dipping into the container and introducing germs) by spooning creams out or using a pump pack.

    If your baby's skin usually seems dry, you may need to apply moisturiser two to four times a day. If your baby's skin is very dry and red, they may have eczema. See our fact sheet Eczema.

    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.
    • Consider using disposable nappies so the moisture is absorbed quickly, leaving the skin dry and less susceptible to breakdown.
    • If you prefer to use cloth nappies, make sure you use an absorbent nappy insert.   
    • Baby wipes can be irritating. Wash with lukewarm water and a fresh Chux-type cloth or cotton wool instead.
    • Apply a barrier cream containing zinc in a thick layer at every nappy change.
    • Do not use talcum powder. 
    • Allow your baby as much nappy free time as possible.

    See our fact sheet Nappy rash.

    Cord care

    Wash your hands before handling the cord stump. The newborn cord should be kept clean and dry. Clean the area using plain water and cotton buds. If the cord gets wee or poo on it, wash off with a pH neutral cleanser. There is no need to use antiseptic or alcohol wipes, as this will increase how long it takes for the cord to separate.

    Expose the cord to air as much as possible, and try not to cover the cord stump with the nappy. If the area around the cord is inflamed or has a bad smell, see your GP.

    Cord separation usually happens in seven to 10 days.

    Clothing your baby

    Light, loose clothing and bedding made of cotton is best. Take care not to overdress your baby or have coarse fibres (e.g. woollen clothing) in direct contact with your baby's skin.

    Avoid washing your baby's clothing in strong detergents, fabric softeners or antibacterial products.

    Sun protection

    Infant skin is sensitive to the harmful effects of UV light. Babies less than 12 months of age should be kept away from direct sunlight. When outdoors, light clothing, hats, sunshades on prams and shade is the best protection against harmful UV rays from the sun.

    When UV levels are less than 3, a small amount of direct UV exposure is considered safe and healthy for infants. When the UV index level reaches 3 or above, a broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30+ or higher should be applied to exposed areas of skin, but choose a sunscreen suitable for babies or those with sensitive skin. To find out the UV levels, visit the Bureau of Meteorology or use the free SunSmart app.

    Apply sunscreen 15–20 minutes before going outside, and reapply it every 2 hours. If the sunscreen causes a reaction on your baby's skin, stop using the product.

    For more information, see our fact sheet Sun safety.

    Hair and nails

    Most babies' hair does not require shampooing. If you are going to use shampoo, choose a gentle, pH-neutral product.

    Nails of newborn babies are often very soft and may not require cutting for the first few months. You can gently trim your baby's nails with small baby nail clippers or file them with an emery board if needed.

    Cradle cap

    Cradle cap is a common condition that affects a baby's scalp (and sometimes the eyebrows). It is caused by a build-up of natural oils and dry skin. Your baby's skin may appear yellow or red and scaly, but not itchy. Crusty patches may appear.

    Cradle cap usually clears by itself after a few months. If it is not going away without treatment, the waxy crust can be removed by massaging your baby's scalp with a light moisturising cream or lotion and leaving it on overnight. When the crust is soft, gently remove with a soft brush. If your baby's skin becomes itchy, inflamed or weepy, see your Maternal and Child Health Nurse or GP. See our fact sheet Cradle cap.

    When to see a doctor

    See your Maternal and Child Health Nurse, GP or paediatrician if:

    • your baby has a persistent rash and is unwell
    • your baby's skin is itchy
    • your baby has persistent nappy rash
    • there is redness, inflammation or swelling once the cord stump has fallen off
    • the area around the cord is inflamed or has an offensive smell
    • the cradle cap treatment is not effective – your baby may need an antifungal cream.

    Key points to remember

    • Do not use soap or bubble bath. Use a pH neutral soap-free wash if needed.
    • Apply a non-fragranced moisturiser all over the body at least once a day – more often when the skin is dry.
    • Change nappies frequently.
    • Try not to overheat your baby – use cotton fabrics for clothing and bedding.
    • If your baby has cradle cap that isn't going away, soften the crust with moisturise and remove with a soft brush.

    For more information

    • Kids Health Info fact sheet: Nappy rash
    • Kids Health Info fact sheet: Cradle cap
    • Kids Health Info fact sheet: Eczema
    • Kids Health Info fact sheet: Sun safety
    • See your GP or Maternal and Child Health Nurse.

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    My baby has a rash. What should I do?

    Rashes are common in babies and often nothing to worry about. There are many reasons why your baby might have a rash. It could be due to hormone changes, scratchy clothing, being too warm, or having irritated skin caused by perfumed moisturisers or soaps. If your baby has a dry, red rash, this may be eczema. Many common viruses can cause a rash in babies. The appearance of the rash usually means your baby is getting better. If your baby has a temperature, is not feeding or if you are concerned at all, see your GP or Maternal and Child Health Nurse.

    My baby has spots all over her face. It looks like acne. What is it?

    Infantile acne (also known as milk spots) is common in newborn babies. It is due to overactive oil glands (called the sebaceous glands). You don't need to do anything about the acne – it won't harm your baby and isn't itchy. It should get better on its own in a few weeks. If it seems to be getting worse after a few weeks or you are worried about your baby's skin, see your Maternal and Child Health Nurse or GP.  

    My baby has a cold. Can I use Vicks on him?

    We do not recommend using heavily scented products, like Vicks, on babies. The smell is too strong and can be very overwhelming for them. This also applies to perfumed lotions and creams, like lavender-scented moisturiser.


    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Dermatology department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers. 

    Reviewed May 2018. 

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au

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Disclaimer
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.