Skin Care Tips for Your Baby

Ask Dr Linda
This month:
Skin Care Tips for Your Baby

Parents can quickly get confused and overwhelmed with the overabundance of information on the Internet and conflicting advice from family and friends. Here, Integrative and Holistic Paediatrician Dr Linda Abujaber answers your questions based on her three decades practising medicine.

Are commercial products likely to irritate my baby’s skin?
Dr Linda: Since the surface of your baby’s skin is so large and so important to your baby’s health, you will want to be extra careful what you put on it. The main things that you want to avoid are:
*Chemicals such as phthalates and parabens, which can affect your baby’s hormone levels and function. Perfumes contain phthalates and parabens, so it is best to avoid wearing them when handling your baby
*Colours and fragrances, which can irritate your baby’s skin and cause dryness and rashes. Products with no colour and no fragrance are the best because they do not contain these components
If you want your baby to benefit from the calming effects of lavender, put some of the essential oil on a cloth and let your baby breathe a little of it in.

How can I minimise my baby’s exposure to chemicals?
Dr Linda: Read the labels of all the products you use on your baby’s skin and avoid or limit those that contain phthalates and parabens. Many ‘green’ products and organic products have less of these chemicals than more traditional brands, so look for those when you can find them. In fact, I recommend using products that only have a few ingredients and ingredients that you can actually read and recognise! If you do not want to use any synthetic lotion on your baby, you may want to try using olive oil or organic coconut oil on the driest parts your baby’s skin. These are all natural and only have one ingredient.

How can I know if my baby is going to tolerate the new lotion my mother in law wants me to try?
Dr Linda: No matter what the product is, whether it is all natural or commercial, always check to make sure your baby will not have a reaction to it before you put it on your baby’s delicate skin. The best way to do this is by doing a home skin test:
*Place a small amount of the lotion you are trying to use on the inside of your baby’s wrist or ankle
Leave it on overnight
If there is no skin reaction in the morning, then it should be fine to put the lotion, or oil on the rest of your baby’s body
If your baby’s skin reacted, wait until the redness and irritation goes away, then try a new product. Consult with your doctor for recommendations of natural, chemical-free options that are available in your area

Should I pay attention to the kind of washcloths and towels I use on my baby?
Dr Linda: When your baby is young, her skin is very sensitive to friction. Use soft, smooth washcloths to bathe and dry her. Wash these in fragrance-free, dye-free detergents. If you cannot find these types of detergents, run washcloths and towels through the rinse cycle twice to remove as much detergent as possible from them. Pat your baby dry rather than rubbing her dry until she is a few months old.
Is it safe to use essential oils on my baby’s skin?
Dr Linda: You need to be extremely careful when using essential oils on babies. They are safe to use for aromatherapy but have not been studied thoroughly enough and are not thought to be safe for babies to ingest. Since your baby’s skin is so thin and absorbent, putting essential oils on large areas of his skin is very much like giving them by mouth and is to be avoided. Even though they are derived from natural sources, this does not mean that they are safe for everybody; essential oils can cause irritation of the skin as well as allergic reactions if rubbed on your baby’s skin.

Should I avoid baby powder?
Dr Linda: Talcum powder may contain asbestos, which can cause lung cancer. There are talcum-free powders, but even these can cause irritation of the lungs and breathing problems for your baby. Since baby powder does not have any real benefits and may lead to serious side effects on your baby’s breathing if they are inhaled, I recommend avoiding all powders (cornstarch) completely. If you really want to use baby powder, here are some general rules:
Avoiding powders like cornstarch or talcum powders because your baby or you could inhale them by accident. These powders can injure the lungs
Avoiding powders that contain baking soda or boric acid because these chemicals can be absorbed through the baby’s skin and be toxic
Avoiding powders that contain boric acid, camphor, phenol, benzocaine (a topical anesthetic) and salicylates (aspirin derivatives) because these chemicals may have toxic effects on your baby. Some babies who have a genetic predisposition may develop a rare dangerous blood problem called methemoglobinemia if you use powders that contain these chemicals

My 10-day-old has very dry skin on her wrists and ankles; in some places, it is cracking and bleeding. What should I do?
Dr Linda: Many babies in the first few days of life have very dry skin that tends to get irritated and cracked, especially in the wrist and ankle area. This is a layer of dead skin that will fall off in the first two weeks of life and is nothing to worry about. If the skin is really dry, irritated or cracked, a visit to the paediatrician will make sure there is no infection in the area. While you are waiting for your appointment, you may want to consider using a small amount of olive oil, coconut oil or fragrance-free, colour-free and chemical-free lotion on these areas to prevent them from cracking further and avoid risk of infection. A home skin test is recommended.
Baby skin also tends to get very dry from taking baths so:
*Only bathe your baby two to three times a week until he is crawling around and eating solid food (young babies don’t get that dirty)
*Clean your baby’s diaper area, under his chin and under his underarms using a soft cloth with warm water as often as you need to (these are the areas that babies get dirty: their diaper area, under their chins where milk can go while he eats and under their arms where they sweat)
*Use the smallest amounts possible of soap, shampoos and lotion on your baby