Before leaving the hospital, or within days of coming home, your newborn’s skin may begin flaking or peeling. This isn’t unusual and can occur on any part of their body, such as the hands, soles of the feet, and ankles.
Peeling skin is natural for newborns. Nearly all newborns experience some flakiness.
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.
Still, their peeling skin can be concerning. Understanding the cause might ease your worries. Here’s what you need to know about newborn skin peeling, including why it happens and how to protect their delicate skin.
Newborns are born covered in various fluids, such as 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 1 to 3 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 at birth, the less they may peel. Premature babies have more vernix, so they often peel less than a baby born at or after 40 weeks.
In either case, some dryness and peeling after birth are typical. Skin flaking will go away on its own and doesn’t usually require special care.
Other factors behind facial peeling
Even though peeling can occur on any part of the body, you might notice more peeling on your baby’s face. This is likely nothing to worry about, and it should go away on its own.
The skin on a baby’s face is sometimes more sensitive than the skin on other body parts, so it’s prone to irritation. Other things can cause dryness on their little faces, too.
Spitting up and drooling can dry out and irritate their skin, as well as exposure to the elements (wind, sun, and cold). These factors, and those that follow, might contribute to extra peeling and flakiness on their face.
If you’re concerned about your baby’s skin, contact their pediatrician. The doctor may refer you to a pediatric dermatologist, who can diagnose potential issues and offer treatment.
Some skin conditions may cause newborn skin to peel. A pediatrician or a pediatric dermatologist can help you identify whether your baby’s peeling skin is typical or a cause for concern.
Sometimes eczema, or atopic dermatitis, can cause peeling and dry skin. Depending on your baby’s skin tone, eczema may cause dry, red, itchy patches. The condition is rare right after birth but may develop later in infancy.
The exact cause of this skin condition is unknown. Several factors can trigger a flare-up, including exposure to irritants such as shampoos and detergents.
Dairy products, soy products, and wheat may also trigger or worsen eczema in some people. If your baby is using a dairy- or soy-based formula, their doctor may recommend switching to a nondairy or non-soy formula. Their doctor may also recommend special moisturizing creams, such as Aveeno or Cetaphil baby care products for eczema.
Ichthyosis, a genetic condition, can also cause peeling and dryness. Ichthyosis causes scaly, itchy skin and skin shedding.
Your baby’s doctor may diagnose a condition based on your family’s medical history and a physical examination. They may also take a blood or skin sample.
There’s no cure for ichthyosis, but regular creams can relieve dryness and improve the skin’s condition.
Flaky patches of skin may be a sign of psoriasis. This immune-mediated skin condition leads to overactive skin cell growth that leads to raised, itchy scales on the skin.
Though psoriasis commonly develops between ages 15 and 35 years old, in rare cases, it may occur in infants.
If your baby has a diaper rash, cradle cap, or yeast infection that doesn’t improve with treatment, see your baby’s doctor. This may be a sign of psoriasis.
There is no cure for psoriasis, but it can be treated.
You may worry about your infant’s skin cracking or becoming overly dry in certain areas. Some simple strategies may protect your newborn’s skin and reduce dryness.
Reduce bath time
Long baths can strip natural oils from the skin. Considering keeping bath time for newborns to 5 to 10 minutes.
Use lukewarm instead of hot water and only fragrance-free, soap-free cleansers. Regular soap and bubble baths are too harsh for a newborn’s skin.
If your baby’s skin seems dry, you may want to apply a hypoallergenic ointment or moisturizer twice a day, including after bath time.
Applying cream immediately after a bath helps seal in moisture, easing dryness and keeping your baby’s skin soft. Gently massaging with a moisturizer can loosen flaky skin and facilitate peeling.
Avoid harsh chemicals
Because a newborn’s skin is sensitive, avoid harsh chemicals, which can irritate your baby’s skin. Don’t apply perfumes or scented products.
Instead of washing your newborn’s clothes with regular laundry detergent, choose a detergent designed specifically for a baby’s sensitive skin.
Keep your newborn hydrated
Keeping your baby as hydrated as possible also reduces dry skin. Make sure they’re getting enough breastmilk or formula. Babies shouldn’t drink water until 6 months old unless your doctor says otherwise.
Protect your newborn from the sun
Keep your newborn outdoors in the shade, out of direct sunlight. In warm weather, be sure to dress your baby in cool, comfortable cotton clothing. A hat will protect their face, ears, and the back of their neck.
While regularly applying sunscreen is best for children, sunscreen isn’t recommended for regular use in babies under 6 months.
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 their 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.
Use a humidifier
If the air in your home is too dry, a cool-mist humidifier can raise the moisture level. A humidifier helps relieve eczema and dry skin.
You can’t prevent your newborn baby’s skin from peeling. The 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 don’t improve within a few weeks or worsen, speak with their doctor. If needed, they may refer you to a skin specialist known as a pediatric dermatologist for further evaluation.