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Parent's Corner

How to Care for Your Baby’s Skin

By: Pamela Brill

Who can resist reaching out to touch a baby's face? Of course, during the cold winter months, those rosy red cheeks can become dry, itchy and irritated, causing tremendous discomfort. But before you start slathering your little one's skin with moisturizer, you should know how to identify and treat the most common baby skin conditions.

Combating Extra-Dry Skin

One of the most common skin problems for babies during the winter months is eczema, a form of inflammation characterized by small, flaky red or pink patches of skin usually on the extremities. While eczema isn't a symptom of any underlying medical conditions, your background may have something to do with it. "If there is a family history of eczema, seasonal or food allergies or asthma, your baby may have a higher chance of developing it," says Carole Arsenault, RN and founder of Boston Baby Nurse (www.bostonbabynurse.com).

Fortunately, eczema is highly treatable and can be managed by using a mild, fragrance-free moisturizer such as Vaseline or Aquaphor. For more severe cases that may require the use of topical steroids, she suggests contacting your pediatrician or a dermatologist.

Another common skin condition, especially in newborns, is seborrheic dermatitis (otherwise known as cradle cap). While it typically clears up on its own, cradle cap can be treated at home. New York-based dermatologist Dr. Janet Prystowsky (www.janetprystowskymd.com) offers the following step-by-step instructions: "Wash your baby's hair once a day with mild baby shampoo, and then brush the scalp lightly with a soft brush to loosen and remove the scales." She steers parents away from applying any dandruff shampoos that contain salicylic acid, which are absorbed through the skin and can be toxic to babies.

Because some infants have highly sensitive skin, they may develop contact dermatitis, a condition similar to eczema that occurs when the skin comes into contact with something that irritates it. Arsenault points to nickel sensitivity as an example. "Sometimes there are snaps on clothes that cause irritation of the skin right below the snap," she explains. As with eczema, this ailment can be remedied with a moisturizing emollient.

Taking Preventative Measures

To avoid further bothersome skin conditions, parents should take the proper precautions, especially in cold weather. "Apply a thin layer of Vaseline to baby's cheeks before venturing out," offers Dr. Prystowsky. "This will also prevent dry, chapped cheeks."

Also, be mindful about how you wipe your baby's mouth and nose. "When possible, blot more and wipe less," she says. And try not to use baby wipes around these areas, as they can cause irritation and even contact dermatitis.

If you're concerned about how frequently you should bathe your little one, it's okay to give that rubber ducky a rest. "A daily bath is not necessary in cold weather, but it can be done safely if gentle skin precautions are followed," says Dr. Prystowsky. Minimize the use of soap and only use enough shampoo to wash the hair. "While a bar of soap may seem like something fun to play while in the bath, too much of it dissolves into the bath water and will dry out baby's skin too much," she adds.

If you plan to use a humidifier in your baby's nursery, your little one can reap the benefits of breathing easier and healthier skin. However, cautions Arsenault, be sure to maintain them frequently for best usage. "Humidifiers must be cleaned regularly or mold can build up and is then aerosol-ized in the baby's room, which can lead to respiratory issues," she notes.

For long-term care of your little one's skin, seek out products that work best for locking in moisture. Dr. Prystowsky recommends staying away from organic products that contain botanicals. "While they sound good, your baby may be allergic to the plant ingredients and get an allergic reaction," she says. "I have seen it in a 7-month old." Instead, look for labels that contain ingredients like mineral oil and petrolatum.

As a general rule of thumb for newborns, Arsenault advises checking with your pediatrician when using a lotion or moisturizer on a baby under 3 months of age.