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Just about every parent who’s had a baby in diapers has experienced the fussiness and telltale red blotches that accompany diaper rash. While nappies keep waste contained as intended, they also trap it against baby’s skin until a change, creating an environment where bacteria can thrive.
In order to avoid irritations like diaper rash, creams are often used to create a skin-protecting barrier against moisture. Knowing which creams are best and how to apply them can take a lot of the struggle out the experience, so read on.
Why Do I Need Diaper Rash Cream?
There are two reasons parents may need diaper cream.
The first is to prevent diaper rash. When properly applied, diaper cream forms a protective layer on your baby’s skin which locks out moisture, waste, possible chemicals found in nappies, and irritation from acidic food. Thicker diaper rash treatments like pastes, ointment, and petroleum jelly are best at creating this moisture barrier.
Diaper cream can also be used to treat an active outbreak of diaper rash. It’s best to choose a formula that’s intended to relieve irritation, hydrate the skin, and create a barrier against moisture and other irritants. If your baby has a diaper rash that’s yeast-based, a diaper cream intended to treat yeast rashes will be needed. If baby’s sensitive skin is already experiencing a rash, you may wish to opt for a lighter cream which spreads easily and is more absorbent.
What Kind of Diaper Creams Can I Choose From?
As with all products for baby, not all diaper creams are created equal. Knowing the difference between these options can help you be sure you’re choosing the one that’s best for your baby’s needs.
- Cream: The lightest of the three options, creams are water-based. They’re highly absorbent, so they soak into the skin quickly and may leave less of a barrier against moisture than pastes and ointments. They’re easy to apply, and they’re ideal for use on existing diaper rash.
- Paste: Diaper pastes have a thicker consistency than creams, but are still thinner than ointments. They’re great at creating a barrier on the skin to keep moisture and irritants away from baby’s bottom, and some may also have ingredients that can soothe existing diaper rash. Often, pastes contain zinc oxide — cloth diaper users may wish to avoid products which contain this ingredient. This is because it can accumulate in fabric over time, which can cause a diaper to repel moisture rather than absorbing it. When this happens, cloth diapers must be stripped.
- Ointment: The thickest of the three options, ointments tend to be quite thick and greasy, and application may take practice. They’re the best product for creating a lasting barrier on the skin of your baby’s bottom, because they’re not designed to be absorbent.
Are There Safety Issues to Consider?
Generally speaking, diaper cream is a fairly safe product. While there are a few potential allergens that parents of especially sensitive babies should be aware of, safety issues regarding diaper rash cream generally regard proper use of the product. Here are some tips for safely using diaper cream:
Skip the powder: Though baby powder was long used to keep bottoms dry and prevent diaper rashes, the product is recommended less often today, and shouldn’t be used on top of diaper cream. Not only can baby breathe in airborne particles, which is bad for their lungs, but cornstarch-based powders can feed yeast rashes rather than helping to abate them. If you’re not ready to give up that beloved squeeze bottle, consider making a paste with petroleum jelly or your most-loved diaper cream and keeping it in a sealed jar.
Wash your hands: We’re sure we don’t need to tell you this, but it’s imperative that you thoroughly wash your hands and wrists in hot, soapy water after you put cream on baby’s bottom. Even if everything looks clean in the diaper area, bacteria is still present on baby’s skin, and wet wipes are NOT a sufficient means of eliminating that bacteria. Think of it as though you’d used the restroom yourself — the hand-wash is essential.
Apply gently and precisely: As we’ve noted, while it’s safe for diaper cream to be applied to the penis, scrotum, and outer vaginal area, it must never be applied inside the vagina. If your baby boy is uncircumcised, never force back the foreskin in order to apply cream, which can damage the skin and create further irritation.
Check for allergens: For some families, this is a non-issue. If your baby suffers from allergies, however, be on the lookout for common culprits like beeswax, coconut oil, lanolin, mineral oil, and sunflower oil.
Where Should Diaper Cream be Placed?
During your baby’s diaper change, cream is generally applied to the cheeks of baby’s bottom in places where the diaper touches. Some babies may need cream to be applied inside the cheeks and in the perianal area if diaper rash continually occurs. Though some parents may attempt to apply diaper creams to treat rash or chafing in thigh creases or around diaper leg openings, this can leave lasting stains on clothes and isn’t recommended — well-fitting diapers and clothes are better for avoiding chafing.
In some cases, diaper rash may spread to baby’s genital area. It is safe to use diaper creams on your baby boy’s penis and/or scrotum; likewise your baby girl’s external vaginal area. It is not safe to apply diaper cream inside the vagina. Occurrences of diaper rash in these areas is less common, and should resolve completely with proper use of cream.
Do I Need to Use Diaper Cream Every Time I Change Baby?
The degree of your baby’s skin sensitivity is likely to inform how often you’ll use diaper cream. While some parents prefer to use cream at every diaper change as a preventative, others find that it’s only really needed if a rash crops up. Here are a few instances in which parents should consider applying diaper cream:
- If baby already has diaper rash, or looks like they may be developing a rash(red, irritated skin is a key sign)
- During the newborn days, when loose meconium stools can trigger diaper rash
- Any time your baby has diarrhea, as loose stools are more likely to cause irritation
- If baby has a cold, has been prescribed antibiotics, or is currently teething — all potential triggers of loose stools
- During the night, especially once baby learns to sleep through the night, as this is generally the longest time they’ll spend in their diaper
- For babies with very sensitive skin and chronic rash issues, using cream at every diaper change may be worth doing
Tips for Using Diaper Cream Effectively
- Let baby skin air-dry before applying cream: Moisture is a key culprit in diaper rashes, and simply letting baby’s diaper area air dry for a few minutes before applying cream can go a long way toward preventing future rashes. If they already have a rash, extra time to air out is recommended. If you’re afraid they might make a mess, grab an old, ratty towel from the linen closet and lay it out as a temporary “play mat”.
- Choose the right product for their skin: Keep in mind that every baby is different — some make do just fine with the occasional cream to treat rashes when they pop up, but others need ongoing applications of ointment during changes to prevent chronic diaper rash.
- Change baby immediately whenever possible: There is perhaps no better ally to the efficacy of diaper cream than for parents to change a dirty diaper as soon as they know of it. This speeds rash-causing moisture and away from the skin, making it less likely that one will form.
Using Diaper Cream: Seven Simple Steps
- Take off that dirty nappy: If they’re wearing disposables, bundle it up and toss it in the diaper genie. If they’re in cloth diapers, hose it off and into the pail it goes. Clean their skin with a disposable or reusable wipe.
- Have a clean diaper ready to go: Take a clean diaper and place it right under your little one’s bottom.
No bigger than a dime: Warm a bit of cream no larger than a dime in the palm of your hand.
- Time to apply: Use clean hands to apply diaper cream to baby’s buttocks. If needed, diaper cream may also be applied inside the cheeks, in the perianal area, on the scrotum, penis, or external vaginal area. Never apply diaper cream inside the vagina or force the foreskin to retract in order to apply cream.
- Time to clean up: Remove any excess cream from your fingers with a cloth or wet wipe.
- Clean nappy time: Fasten baby’s clean diaper, making sure that it is secure without being too snug.
- Nerf those germs: Head right to the sink to thoroughly wash your hands and wrists in hot, soapy water.
Babies’ sensitive skin can be very reactive, but diaper cream can work wonders in preventing rashes when used properly and in conjunction with frequent diaper changes. Make sure to observe your child’s level of skin sensitivity in order to determine how often you need to apply diaper cream, and whether a cream, paste, or ointment should be used. Following important rules like hand-washing and precise application will help to keep both you and your baby healthy, and learning about the situations that can lead to a surprise crop of diaper rash — think a soiled diaper overnight or periods of long travel — will help you better anticipate when cream may be needed.