Babies naturally have skin that’s more sensitive than older children and adult’s skin, which makes it harder for parents to spot when their baby has certain sensitivities.
Understanding what’s normal for baby skin can help with this confusion. Heat rashes and dry skin, for example, aren’t necessarily signs of sensitive baby skin and are very common during infancy.
Read on to learn more about what’s considered sensitive for baby skin and how you can soothe your baby’s skin if it’s sensitive.
Some babies develop dry skin and rashes after contact with various substances. If your baby has any of the following, they likely have sensitive skin:
- a skin reaction after a bath with soap
- a skin reaction after lotion is applied, which could be caused by fragrances or other ingredients
- changes to the skin after being dressed or wrapped in a blanket, possibly caused by detergents or dyes
Overall, if you notice any skin changes or reactions during or after regular activities that might involve contact with a detergent, dye, soap, or fragrance, these could be signs of sensitive baby skin.
It’s important that you figure out what substances your baby is sensitive to. If you’re not sure what exactly is causing the reactions, you can try taking the following steps:
- avoid using detergents with fragrances or dyes
- use mild soaps during bath time and when cleaning your baby
- stick to best practices for bathing
- keep the diaper area clean and dry
Most babies will develop a rash at some point during their infancy. According to Seattle Children’s Hospital, some common rashes a baby may develop include:
- Rashes from spit-up, drool, or heat. These are very common and can occur anytime during infancy.
- Baby acne. Acne is very common within 2 to 4 weeks after birth.
- Milia. These are tiny white bumps that appear on the face. Around 40 percent of babies will have milia at birth.
- Erythema toxicum. Despite the intimidating name, this rash is harmless and looks like red blotches with small white or yellow centers. More than 50 percent of babies will develop erythema toxicum, usually within 1 to 2 days after birth.
You may also notice a scaly, greasy-looking rash that appears near the hairline and on top of your baby’s head called cradle cap. Cradle cap is very common and not a sign that your baby has sensitive skin.
Other normal occurrences you may notice on your baby’s skin include different types of birthmarks, many of which go away on their own. These can include:
- Hemangioma. These are raised, red birthmarks that appear within the first month after birth and grow for a year before starting to fade. People might also call these strawberry spots.
- Nevus flammeus. These are flat, pink or red birthmarks on a baby’s forehead or nose. They’re sometimes referred to as stork bites or angel’s kisses.
- Congenital dermal melanocytosis. These flat birthmarks often look like bruises. They’re also called Mongolian spots or slate gray nevi.
If you notice any of these spots on your baby’s skin, take a picture to show your child’s doctor so they can be documented and monitored for future changes.
When your baby is born, their skin will often be reddish-purple in color. As they start to breathe air on their own, their skin should transition to more of a red color, which will then fade during the first day after birth.
As their initial color fades, they may have blue-hued hands and feet. This can last several days.
Blue lips or face are not normal. You should contact your baby’s doctor if you notice a blue color in those areas.
If you notice these color changes and your baby is struggling to breathe, seek medical attention immediately by calling 911 or going to your closest emergency department.
In the first few days to weeks of life, you may notice acne form on your baby’s face. This is normal and should fade within a few days.
Babies often have tiny blocked pores known as milia. These pores look like little tiny pimples, but they’re not a sign of infection. They go away on their own as your baby grows.
A baby’s skin is also susceptible to heat rashes. As your baby ages, you’ll be able to learn what they’re sensitive to and how to better avoid conditions that cause these rashes.
If your baby develops eczema, you may first notice it on their cheeks and face. As your baby becomes a toddler, eczema is likely to form around the folds in their skin, like those around the elbows.
How you treat your baby’s sensitive skin will vary based on what condition you’re dealing with. The following are some common conditions and ways to treat them at home.
Eczema is a common, chronic skin condition. On babies, it often appears on the cheeks first and then spreads to the rest of the face, legs, and arms. Typical treatment includes applying unscented, dye-free moisturizers to the affected area at least twice a week, especially after bathing.
It’s also recommended that you don’t use soap, especially bubble bath, during bath time. Skin affected by eczema is very sensitive to soap.
For moderate to severe cases of eczema, you may need to apply a steroid or antibiotic cream. Talk to your baby’s doctor before using these types of creams.
Cradle cap causes a greasy, scaly rash to appear on your baby’s scalp or forehead or around their ears. It’s not contagious and doesn’t require medical treatment in most cases.
To treat cradle cap, wash your baby’s scalp and gently scrub the scales to remove them. If it doesn’t get better with bathing or if the rash spreads, talk to your baby’s doctor.
Heat rash is a common irritation that can appear on babies at almost any time of year. It usually appears on the folds of your baby’s skin or where clothing is tight. A heat rash occurs because the sweat glands are blocked.
To treat heat rash, you should:
- cool your baby’s skin with a cool bath or washcloth
- avoid using oil-based ointments
- dress your baby in loose-fitting outfits
After treatment, the heat rash should disappear within 2 to 3 days.
Contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction on the skin. It can present as a rash, swelling, oozing, or hives. The reaction occurs because your baby came in contact with something that irritated their skin.
Columbia University Irving Medical Center recommends a two-part plan in treating contact dermatitis:
- treat the symptoms of contact dermatitis
- identify what’s causing the condition
If your baby comes into contact with a known — or a potential — allergen or irritant, wash the area thoroughly with soap and water.
You can also talk to your baby’s doctor about safe ointments or creams to apply when contact dermatitis happens.
You should seek medical attention if your baby has any respiratory symptoms, if the face or genitals are affected, or if there are any signs of infection, such as a fever of 100°F or higher.
Erythema toxicum is a common, harmless rash. It can cause pustules to form on your baby’s trunk, hands, feet, arms, and legs. The condition doesn’t require any treatment and should clear within 5 to 14 days, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.
Baby acne occurs on about 20 percent of all babies. Acne that appears before 6 weeks is not a cause for concern.
However, the American Academy of Dermatology Association suggests that you talk to your baby’s doctor if acne develops after 6 weeks of age, since it may not be acne or may be a sign of another health problem.
If your baby develops acne in the first few weeks of life, it’s best to avoid using oily creams or washes on their skin.
You can use lukewarm water to clean their face and affected areas but don’t apply acne creams or ointments. The acne will generally clear on its own without formal treatment.
You should talk to your baby’s doctor if they develop a rash you cannot explain. You should also talk to your baby’s doctor if any of the following occur:
- the rash or dry, cracking skin doesn’t clear within a few days or gets worse
- your baby develops a fever of 100°F or higher in addition to a rash
- treatments don’t help the rash get better
- the rash appears to be infected
You should also talk to your baby’s doctor before using any medications to treat your baby. A doctor can recommend safe treatment options.
Most babies will develop rashes, dry skin, or other skin conditions during their first few months of life. If your baby has sensitive skin, it means they develop reactions to substances that may not bother other babies, such as dyes, scents, or soaps.
Avoiding triggers can help prevent rashes from coming back.
Treatments often involve:
- cleaning the affected area
- keeping the skin moisturized
- using creams or ointments that are approved by your doctor