Having a baby can be an exciting and scary time in your life. Since your primary focus is keeping your newborn safe and healthy, it’s understandable to worry about your baby’s well-being.
If your baby’s skin appears dry or starts peeling in the weeks following birth, knowing what causes peeling might ease your worries.
Why Does Peeling, Dry Skin Occur?
A newborn’s appearance — including their skin — can change a lot within the first few weeks of life. Your baby’s hair can change colors and their complexion may become lighter or darker.
Before leaving the hospital or within days of coming home, your newborn’s skin may also begin flaking or peeling. This is completely normal in newborns. Peeling can occur on any part of the body, such as the hands, soles of the feet, and ankles.
Newborns are born covered in various fluids. This includes amniotic fluid, blood, and vernix. Vernix is a thick coating that protects a baby’s skin from amniotic fluid.
A nurse will wipe fluids off a newborn shortly after birth. Once the vernix is gone, your baby will begin to shed the outer layer of their skin within one to three weeks. The amount of peeling varies, and depends on whether your baby was premature, delivered on time, or overdue.
The more vernix a baby has on its skin at birth, the less they may peel. Since premature babies have more vernix, these newborns often peel less than a baby born at or after 40 weeks. In either case, some dryness and peeling after birth is normal. Skin flaking will go away on its own and doesn’t usually require special care.
Other Causes of Peeling and Dryness
In some cases, peeling and dry skin are caused by a skin condition called eczema, or atopic dermatitis. Eczema can cause dry, red, itchy patches on your baby’s skin.
Keeping your newborn’s skin moisturized can improve eczema symptoms. The exact cause of this skin condition is unknown. Various factors can trigger a flare-up, including exposure to irritants such as shampoos and detergents.
Dairy products, soy products, and wheat may also trigger eczema. If your baby is using a soy-based formula, your doctor may recommend switching to a non-soy formula. Your doctor may also recommend special moisturizing creams for eczema, such as Aveeno or Cetaphil baby care products.
Peeling and dryness can also be caused by a genetic condition called ichthyosis. This skin condition causes scaly, itchy skin and skin shedding. Your doctor may diagnose your baby with this condition based on your family's medical history and a physical examination. Your baby’s doctor may also take a blood or skin sample.
There's no cure for ichthyosis, but regularly applying creams can relieve dryness and improve the condition of your baby’s skin.
Treatments for Peeling, Dry Skin
Although skin peeling is normal in newborns, you may worry about your infant’s skin cracking or becoming overly dry in certain areas. Here are some simple strategies to protect your newborn’s skin and reduce dryness.
Reduce Bath Time
Long baths can remove natural oils from your newborn’s skin. If you've been giving your newborn 20- or 30-minute baths, cut bath time down to 5 or 10 minutes.
Use lukewarm instead of hot water, and only use fragrance-free, soap-free cleansers. Regular soap and bubble baths are too harsh for a newborn’s skin.
Apply a Moisturizer
Apply a hypoallergenic moisturizer to your baby’s skin twice a day, including after bath time. Applying cream to skin immediately after a bath helps seal in moisture.
This can prevent dryness and keep your baby’s skin soft. Gently massaging your newborn’s skin with a moisturizer can loosen flaky skin and facilitate peeling.
Keep Your Newborn Hydrated
Keeping your baby as hydrated as possible also reduces dry skin. Babies shouldn't drink water until they’re about 6 months old, unless your doctor says otherwise.
Protect Your Newborn from Cold Air
Make sure your newborn’s skin isn’t exposed to the cold or wind when outdoors. Put socks or mittens over your baby’s hands and feet. You can also place a blanket over your newborn’s car seat or carrier to protect their face from the wind and cold air.
Avoid Harsh Chemicals
Because a newborn’s skin is sensitive, it's also important to avoid harsh chemicals that can irritate your baby’s skin. Don’t apply perfumes or scented products to your newborn’s skin.
Instead of washing your newborn’s clothes with regular laundry detergent, choose a detergent designed specifically for a baby’s sensitive skin, such as Dreft.
Use a Humidifier
If the air in your house is too dry, use a cool mist humidifier to raise the moisture level in your home. A humidifier helps relieve eczema and dry skin.
There's no way to prevent peeling after birth. The amount of time it takes to shed the outer layer of skin varies from baby to baby. Keeping your baby’s skin hydrated helps reduce dry patches and cracking.
If dry skin and flaking doesn't improve within a few weeks or worsens, speak with your doctor.