If the night is dark and full of terrors, then parenting is complicated and packed with surprises. In this post, we aim to make things a little easier. The brief to answer? How do I best look after my baby's skin? Here's our simple guide.
BEING MUMMY (OR DADDY).
Whether you’re a newbie or the head of a boisterous clan, parenting can stand for bursting with love, sleepless nights and sometimes, outright bewilderment.
Breast-milk or formula? Sterilize or rub-off? Is green poo normal? All fair questions. Quiz answers are at the end of this post. Meanwhile, a quick google search often provides temporary respite and information overload in equal measure. But why's it such a muddle?
Firstly, every baby is a world of its own. The advice given by doctors, parenting clubs and our dear aunt Mabel can become a bubbling hot-pot of conflicting opinion. Cultural habits, generational differences and emerging science all contribute to what we know today.
There's real value to be found in differences of opinion. But if you're swimming in a sea of contrasting advice, then caring for the sensitive skin of your baby, or toddler can quickly become overwhelming.
At SKIN SAPIENS we know that if knowledge is power, then learning is empowerment. So we decided to create this 101 guide to caring for your baby's skin.
A great place to start is with a quick look at what makes your baby's skin is so special.
1. A BABY’S SKIN IS ALWAYS CHANGING.
Recognising the differences between a baby's skin and our own is the foundation for making bathtime easy and fun.
Unlike most species, humans are born before they're ready. It’s a physiological thing. Simply, our heads are so big on our bodies, that staying in the womb any longer would risk childbirth.
So, instead of clumsily climbing onto all fours and running off into the wilderness, we are wholly dependent on our parents for survival. We need more time to develop. The same goes for our skin.
Even at birth, a baby’s skin is still it’s largest organ and it needs time to adapt to the outside world. Those changes take place in the days, weeks and months after birth. As skin changes, its basic needs change too!
First days of life - When we are born we are covered with a waxy, creamy-white coating, called a vernix. It’s our natural protection against the amniotic fluid in the womb. It also provides an extra layer of fat to help keep heat shortly after birth.
Studies have shown that it’s beneficial to leave this waxy coating intact for at least 6 to 24 hours after a baby is born. Allowing the vernix to be absorbed naturally instead of washing it off, helps with hydration and can protect against infections.
Early weeks - in the first weeks of life, a newborn's skin is more fragile than the skin of more developed babies. Just like us, a baby's skin shares the same three basic layers; the epidermis, dermis and hypodermis. Only in newborns, each layer is much thinner than our own.
All babies also have to deal with a reduced lipid barrier, an immature immune function and a neutral to alkaline pH, the measure of acidity, of around 6.5. This means a newborn's skin more delicate, at risk of infection and substances pass through it more easily. For this reason its important to be extra careful when washing and bathing after birth. More on that to follow.
Months and years ahead - As a baby’s skin matures it becomes more acidic, reaching a pH of around 5 to 5.5, which is slightly acidic, and similar to adult skin. These changes are brought by the regulation of oil, or sebum production and an increase in a baby's own protective fatty acids over time. These natural changes are essential, and not without their surprises. Temporary dryness, milk spots and redness are common.
It's right to take extra care with a child's skin. But once we understand these differences, good habits for looking after baby’s skin are much the same as your own. We just need to adjust the basics to help our baby's skin stay clean, nourished and healthy.
2. BATH TIME
So if a newborns’ skin is very thin, still developing, and super sensitive. How can I safely keep my baby clean, happy and healthy?
Top and tail - Guidelines on bathing vary by country and culture. In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) recommends “top and tailing” in the first few days of life.
Stopping short of a full bath, to top and tail you gently wipe your baby’s face, ears, hands, feet and bottom with cotton wool, or even better, a clean reusable cloth, and warm water. Special attention should go to wiping between those cute creases of the neck and armpits where milk and fluff can gather. ALWAYS be sure to start at the top before working your way down!
In other parts of Europe, like Spain and Italy, it’s normal to skip top and tailing completely and start with daily baths for babies 24 hours after birth. Once clean, be sure you pat dry very carefully, paying special attention to their folds and rolls.
Rub-a-dub-dub! In the following days, you’ll want to bath your baby. This can be done in a bowl, plastic tub or even a kitchen sink. So long as it's sterile, it's OK! If combined with top and tailing, a bath 2 or 3 times a week is more than enough. That said, if you LOVE bubbles, then a daily bath is fine too.
In these early weeks, washing with shallow, warm water is enough. Matching body temperature is the way to go... 37 to 37.5 degrees C is perfect. If you don’t have a thermometer, the “elbow test” is a good back-up. Just dip your elbow in water to check it feels tepid, not too hot, nor too cold. If it does, you're good to go!
Once the baby is three to four weeks old, you might start to introduce basic baby care items into your bathtime routine. You might be sold otherwise, but in reality, there's no great rush to add baby care products to your bath time routine any sooner. For newborns, less is definitely more.
Tip: if travelling it's a great idea to keep your baby's bath shorter than usual. Water hardness and pH can change from one place to another. These changes in tap water can be enough to set a baby’s delicate skin balance out of kilter. Keep baths short and sweet when on the road. Read here for more tips!
3. LET’S TALK BOTTOMS
Oh, babies’ bottoms.
The softest thing you’ve ever touched, and kissed.
Babies bottoms can be a thing of wonder. Every parent will have to deal with nappy (or diaper) rashes. They can come and go, and are par for the course, but what causes them?
Nappy rashes are caused by a couple of things: rubbing of the nappy against the skin, contact with wee and poo, or even a lack of fresh air. Thankfully, you can control these.
Changing nappies frequently, patting the skin dry after bath times, and letting the skin get fresh air from time to time can prevent the rash from appearing by controlling any excess of moisture.
Balms, ointments and barrier creams help reduce physical rubbing against nappies. They also reduce the contact of any nasties with a baby’s sensitive skin. For newborns and toddlers alike, a quick application after each nappy change is normally enough to keep bottoms ticking over, happy and healthy.
And then teething happens!
If we're talking bottoms, we have to talk teething. Most babies begin to show teeth at 6 to 12 months. When teething begins saliva becomes more acidic to help soften gums. As a baby’s saliva acidifies, so too does it’s poo. You’ll probably even smell the difference!
At this point, even the world’s best-kept bottom can run into trouble. Specialised creams with an extra-strong barrier function can help keep acids from irritating the area. Even medicated products might be called upon to temporarily keep raw, angry skin at bay. Once recovered, it's best to go back to gentler formulas.
4. DRY SKIN
We mentioned earlier that your baby’s skin barrier is weak at birth. This gradually changes in the weeks and months that follow. The ups and downs of learning to self-regulate oil production change can result in dry, flaky skin, especially on hands and feet.
Moisturising with a gentle, bland cream is normally sufficient to help with hydration. Flaky skin will usually correct itself in time as the skin barrier matures. Don't remove any flakes, these will fall on their own. If the dryness or irritation worsens, try cutting out the products you’re using to give the skin a break and book a visit to see your paediatrician.
5. CRADLE CAP
Cradle cap is a common condition in babies that appears on the top of their head months after birth. It’s a medical condition called seborrheic dermatitis which can result in patches of greasy, yellow crusts. This is almost always harmless. Although the cause is not clear, it shouldn’t cause pain, itchiness or discomfort to your baby. Moreover, it usually clears on its own.
You can also try a Meditteranean home remedy to clear it:
- Step 1: Apply a few drops of pure, extra virgin olive oil to the scalp, leave to soak for 30 minutes. SKIN SAPIENS baby balm can be used too.
- Step 2: and rinse in the bath.
- Step 3: Once the flakes have softened you can brush them away with a soft brush. No need to force or pull. If the flaky skin doesn't fall off, leave it be.
Step 3 can also be combined with rinsing your baby’s hair with a baby shampoo or a gentle bath gel.
If you're not sure if the condition is cradle cap, or the dry scalp doesn't clear up in good time it's best to speak to a paediatrician.
6. PRODUCTS - WHAT CAN I USE?
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Coming from people who make skincare, it might sound strange to hear us say this. But here it goes...
When it comes to looking after sensitive skin, we believe in keeping things simple. By having fewer products and fewer ingredients in your baby care routine you reduce the chance of your baby being exposed to irritants. That’s the power in taking a minimalist approach to skincare.
Natural origin or synthetic? Naturally, we believe in creating products which are powered by the age-old wisdom of mother nature. Despite that, whether natural or synthetic, any product which you use on your baby’s skin should always be dermatologically tested, and paediatrician approved.
When bathing, products used to clean a baby should use gentle cleansing agents. Avoid harsh detergents like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) which are too strong for babies’ skin.
Even better than looking for “free-from” claims, is turning over the product and checking the ingredient’s list to familiarise yourself with what’s inside. That way you don’t risk discovering that your product is “free from” one thing you like to avoid, only to find that it’s full of another.
For creams and lotions, simple is best. As dermatologist Emma Wedgeworth said for The Sunday Times “Babies’ skin needs a gentle approach; less is more.” The simpler the formula, the better.
Wedgeworth’s advice? “Babies’ skin benefit(s) from bland moisturisers — ingredients like shea butter, glycerin and mineral oil.” At SKIN SAPIENS we don’t use mineral oil, but natural and vegan glycerin is one of our favourite moisturising ingredients.
Adding fragrance to baby products is a touchy subject. In some cultures, it’s a faux pax to put perfume on a baby. In others, it's symbolic of bathtime. Our view? If an ingredient doesn’t offer a clear skin benefit, it's better to leave it out of your baby’s skincare.
Fragrance, whether synthetic or natural, contains a wide range of allergens. It’s also common for a perfume to carry an alcoholic base, and is a known cause of household air pollution through the release of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Its function is no more than giving a pleasant smell to the product but it's a leading cause of skin irritation. This may be why Wedgeworth calls fragrance the “number 1 ingredient to avoid” in baby or child skincare routine.
Few things in the world smell as good as a new-born baby. When someone learns how to bottle that natural scent, we'll reconsider.
STAY CALM. KEEP PARENTING
There we have it. Our 101 to baby bathtime.
It's normal for a baby’s changing skin to pack plenty of surprises. Everything is new when you have your first baby. Yet in truth, it's still new the second time around too. Every new arrival brings new quirks, charms and individual needs which make them unique. If you're ever unsure of something, trust your gut instinct. No one knows your baby like you.
If you're new to parenting we hope this post removes some of the mystery. If you're already a dab hand, then perhaps you've learned something new? Either way, if anything we do empowers you to keep bathtime naturally simple then together we're winning.
PS Are we missing anything, or do you have specific questions about our products or your baby's skin? We're here for you. Contact us at “tribe” @ “skinsapiens.com”.
OH! AND THE ANSWERS?
Breast-milk or formula? 100% your call. There are undoubtedly benefits to both. The first is what mother nature intended for your baby drink. The second might be more convenient, or even necessary if you’re back to work soon after birth. This is a personal decision. We are no one to be telling you what’s right for you and your baby here.
Sterilise or rub-off? The official guidelines by the National Health Service suggest sterilising bottles for the first 12 months of your baby’s life. In reality, most parents will probably tell you they sterilised rubber teats for their firstborn, rinsed under the tap for their second and wiped clean with the closest child’s t-shirt for their third.
Is green poo normal? Yep. Yellow and brown too! Here’s a handy poo guide for all things related. Red, thick and black (meconium excluded), or white and chalky poos could be a sign of illness and should be quickly reported to your paediatrician.
Disclaimer: The content in this journal post is the combination of careful research and first-hand experience. This advice is not intended to replace the guidance of your medical practitioner. Always seek personalised medical advice if you have specific concerns.