Baby skin: soft, delicate – and prone to a number of common conditions. Work out just what these odd marks and pimples mean – and what to do
If anything makes your complexion seem less than perfect, it’s looking at your baby’s skin. Soft, peachy, glowing with health.
But as your baby grows, her skin will need extra attention for it to stay this way as it starts to react to the environment.
‘Almost two-thirds of babies suffer from complaints such as dryness and cradle cap, and half of the mums I see at their six-week check-up have questions about their baby’s skin,’ says GP Leon Clark.
As babies get older, the natural bacteria on their skin kicks in and helps to protect it, but until then, you’ll need to play skincare detective to care for your baby’s skin.
About half of newborns will have raised white spots called milia on their cheeks, nose and chin, caused by underdeveloped oil glands and blocked pores.
‘There’s no need to see a doctor as milia will clear up on its own,’ says Dr Anna Chapman, consultant paediatric dermatologist at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, London.
And, however tempted you are, don’t squeeze them! The good news is these bumps will vanish around six to eight weeks.
Thought you wouldn’t have to tackle acne until the teen years? Thought wrong – the tiniest of babies can get acne, too.
Resist any temptation to squeeze the spots, as this can leave a scar
‘Pimples are caused by hormones passing from the mother to the baby in the last stages of pregnancy, and will clear up on their own after about six weeks,’ says Anna. ‘Resist any temptation to squeeze the spots, as this can leave a scar.’
Unlike adult acne, the baby version needs no special treatment and is rarely severe.
If your baby’s skin looks a little grey and feels dry, she could need a moisturiser.
‘A doctor will be able to prescribe something that’s right for your baby,’ says independent health visitor Daphne Hardwick.
Some creams, including natural products, can irritate baby skin, while traditional alternatives don’t always work.
‘It’s often beneficial to use a moisturising, non-scented bath additive, such as Oilatum Junior Bath Formula – and you can do this right from day one,’ says Anna.
Signs of eczema – typified by itchy skin or visible red or dry patches – can appear in the first few months, but the good news is, it often clears up with regular moisturising.
‘Your GP or health visitor may prescribe an emollient cream such as Diprobase and possibly a steroid cream that reduces inflammation,’ says Leon.
‘Use emollient daily, especially after a bath to provide a protective barrier to keep moisture in the skin.’
Your baby won’t necessarily be stuck with eczema for life. Research suggests that 65 per cent of children will have grown out of eczema by the time they are seven, and 74 per cent by the time they are 16.
It may sound cute, but cradle cap is typified by unsightly yellowish, scaly skin on your baby’s scalp. It’s easily treated.
‘Massage baby oil into your baby’s head at night to loosen the crust, then brush out the flakes in the morning,’ says Daphne.
Cradle cap shampoos, such as Dentinox (£2.71 from Boots), contain mild detergents that are suitable for babies, but make sure you rinse the hair and skin thoroughly after using them.
‘Cradle cap will probably settle down on its own,’ says Leon. ‘Just look out for signs of infection – the skin will be red and inflamed – as this might need treatment with antibiotics.’
It’s the one that most mums will have to tackle at some point – nappy rash. This sore rash on your baby’s bottom is caused by the bacteria in wee and poo sitting against her skin.
Giving your baby some nappy-free time for a few minutes every day can help – as can sticking to cotton wool and water to clean up at nappy changes.
‘It’s fine to use wipes if you’re out and about, but look for ones that are hypoallergenic,’ says Daphne.
Make sure your baby’s in the right size nappy, too, and always put on a layer of barrier cream to protect the skin.
Baby skin is more prone to burning than adults’, so keep your baby out of the sun as much as possible.
‘Sun protection is very important,’ says Anna. ‘Studies have shown that if you are exposed to too much sun when you’re a baby, you’re at higher risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers as an adult.’
If your baby develops tiny red spots or blotches on her face or body, it’s probably heat rash, which will disappear as soon as she cools down.
There is no hard and fast rule about viral rashes, so it’s best to see a doctor if you’re worried.
‘After a virus, a child will sometimes develop a harmless red rash,’ says Leon. ‘This will get better without treatment, but don’t hesitate to see a doctor if you’re concerned.’
If a rash doesn’t blanch when pressed with a glass, it could be meningitis – so you’ll need to call 999.
Occasionally a rash can be a sign of illness such as slapped cheek syndrome. Both conditions are minor and usually clear up on their own, but you’ll need a doctor to make the diagnosis.