A baby’s skin is achingly adorable, sensitive, delicious-smelling, and oh-so-soft. But there’s much more to it than that.

The structure of baby skin is distinctly different from adult skin. It’s a developing microbiome, a body heat regulator, and a critical barrier against infection. And touch between babies and their parents and caregivers is essential for brain development and bonding.

We’ve partnered with Pampers to explore 13 fascinating facts about baby skin.

Infographic 13 Facts About Your Baby's SkinShare on Pinterest
Infographic by Brittany England

Lanugo is super fine, soft, nonpigmented hair that fetuses grow early in development.

It’s the first type of hair a person has, and about 30% of newborns still have theirs.

Lanugo plays an important role, holding vernix against the newborn’s skin.

Babies are born wearing 100% natural baby moisturizer — a creamy white substance called vernix caseosa, or just vernix.

Vernix provides a protective coating for the skin of a fetus and newborn. In the womb, it helps protect the skin from electrolytes and other substances in the amniotic fluid.

After birth, vernix helps prevent the skin from drying out, helps baby maintain a steady body temperature, and promotes immunity.

In the hours and days after birth, vernix slowly wears off with bathing and touch.

Research has shown that newborn skin can vary from having the same thickness as adult skin to being 20–30% thinner in some areas. It’s more likely to be thinner in preterm infants.

Skin thickness quickly increases in the first few months of life.

In the uterus, babies have nearly zero exposure to bacteria. But as soon as a baby is born, bacteria begin to colonize their skin, forming what will become their skin microbiome, an ecosystem of beneficial microorganisms.

These colonizer bacteria typically originate from the mother’s body — especially from the skin and vagina.

Experts believe that exposure to these microbes is critical in the development of the baby’s immune system.

If your baby has a rash, it’s not necessarily cause for alarm.

More than half of babies get a harmless type of rash called erythema toxicum in the first 2–3 days after birth. It looks like red blotches with small pimples in the center but goes away on its own.

Drool and spit-up rashes are also common. And don’t get us started on diaper rashes.

About half of babies get diaper rash at some point, often due to irritation from urine and feces. Usually it’s harmless and goes away within 3–4 days, but consider seeing your pediatrician if the rash stays longer than that.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a few steps to prevent diaper rashes, including keeping the skin clean and dry, changing diapers frequently, and cleaning the area gently with each diaper change.

Compared with adult skin, a baby’s skin is thinner, drier, and has less melanin (pigment) and naturally occurring moisturizer.

All these factors can make the color different from that of adult skin.

Newborn skin is also typically thinner than adult skin, so it appears to have more of a red or pink color thanks to the underlying blood vessels.

Baby acne happens in about 20% of babies at about 2 weeks of age, and it looks like small red dots on the skin.

It’s typically not a cause for concern and usually goes away within a few weeks or months, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Many babies get yellowish, greasy, scaly patches of scalp called cradle cap — a type of seborrheic dermatitis. It’s not itchy or contagious, and it’s not caused by allergies or hygiene issues.

It’s harmless and often goes away on its own by about 12 months of age. About 70% of 3-month-olds have cradle cap.

It may be caused by a strain of yeast on the scalp or related to overproduction of oil from a baby’s scalp glands.

You can try removing the scales on your own with gentle massage or combing, but never pick them because it might lead to an infection.

The AAP recommends bathing your baby about three times per week. Bathing too often can cause their skin to become too dry.

Experts recommend using pH-neutral or slightly acidic cleansers to avoid irritating your baby’s sensitive skin.

Additionally, it’s best to use liquid cleansers rather than bar soap or plain water because liquid cleansers often contain emollients — moisturizers that help protect and hydrate dry skin and prevent skin conditions such as eczema.

Using moisturizer on your baby’s skin can help restore skin elasticity, slow down water loss through the skin, and prevent atopic dermatitis (eczema).

Consider asking your pediatrician to suggest a moisturizer — but they may not recommend using one if you have a preterm infant.

Baby skin is very sensitive to sunburn, and frequent sunburns and sun exposure in childhood are linked to melanoma development later in life.

Compared with adult skin, baby skin has less melanin, which usually helps protect the skin from UV damage.

The AAP recommends keeping babies under 6 months old out of the sun.

The simple act of touching your baby — caressing, hugging, nuzzling, having skin-to-skin time — is the most basic form of reassurance you can give them.

It’s an essential way that babies form an attachment to their caregivers, and it’s thought to profoundly affect a baby’s social and emotional development.

In babies and caregivers, skin-to-skin contact is associated with higher levels of the bonding hormone oxytocin, reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and increased feelings of safety.

Research suggests that parents with higher levels of oxytocin tend to respond more to their babies.

Hugging your infant can give both of you a sense of safety and activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps reduce stress throughout your bodies.

Infant massage is another great way to bond with your baby. Research suggests that it may even help relieve pain, improve jaundice, and help your baby gain weight.

Is there anything more delicious than baby smell? For some people, maybe not.

In one 2017 study, more than 93% of parents surveyed said that their infants had a “pleasant” or “very pleasant” scent.

Mothers can even distinguish the smell of their own babies from the scents of other babies, and one small 2013 study found that baby smell activated brain reward centers in women regardless of whether they were mothers.

Baby skin is a wonderous thing. In the first months of your baby’s life, it’s important to keep their skin clean and dry, well moisturized, and shaded from the sun.

Many of the skin conditions that can happen in infancy are normal and will go away with time, but you should call your pediatrician if you’re concerned, if a skin issue is severe, or if it persists for longer than a few days.

Perhaps most importantly, know that taking time to be with your baby is essential.

Snuggling your baby, having skin-to-skin time, and giving them lots of loving, gentle touch are necessary to promote healthy development and help your baby feel safe and content.