5 distressing baby skin conditions and how to treat them

It takes some time for your baby’s skin to adjust to life outside the womb and skin conditions are common during the first few years of life.

ALSO SEE: Your guide to identifying and treating newborn skin rashes

Here’s a look at some common baby skin conditions that are likely to cause distress and what you can do to treat them.

Candida diaper dermatitis


  • Candida diaper dermatitis is usually seen one or two weeks after birth, often after either mom or baby has been treated with antibiotics, explains Cape Town paediatrician Dr Hedi van der Watt.
  • It’s a red, raw rash found in moist, warm creases of skin and may be peppered with ulcers.


You’ll need an antifungal cream to kill off the candida fungus – the overgrowth of which is usually prompted by the antibiotics. “A zinc-based ointment can be soothing and oral probiotics will also help recolonise the gut with healthy flora,” says Dr van der Watt.

Contact diaper dermatitis


  • Like candida diaper dermatitis, contact diaper dermatitis looks raw and red. It usually spares the creases of the skin, but can cause a rawness around the anus.
  • “It’s most commonly observed in infants with runny stools, though it can also be caused by the nappy,” says Dr van der Watt.


Stop using wet wipes, apply a good zinc and castor oil-based barrier cream, air your baby’s bum often and, if you’re breastfeeding, decrease the amount of dairy you consume (which will in turn reduce the acidic lactose content in the stool).

ALSO SEE: How to care for your baby’s genitals

Psoriasis in the nappy area


  • Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that causes thickened, inflamed and red skin with silvery scales.
  • When it presents in the groin area, it looks like a standard nappy rash – except that other areas of the body such as the scalp or trunk are often also affected.
  • The psoriasis skin lesions that result tend to be sharply demarcated and it’s likely to be itchy and painful.


Unfortunately, it is resistant to treatment and can persist for several months, says Dr van der Watt. Psoriasis isn’t an infection, so it’s not contagious, and researchers believe a complex interaction of genetics, environment and immune factors are at play.

  • The first line of treatment is the liberal application of emollients like petroleum jelly.
  • Low to medium-potency topical corticosteroids can be helpful, but should only be used under the guidance of a paediatric dermatologist.
  • For areas like the scalp and trunk, the messy yet effective use of tar and prescription drugs will be required.

Staphylococcal diaper dermatitis


  • Staphylococcal diaper dermatitis – caused by the bacteria, staphylococcus aureus – is an alarming-looking pustular rash that usually occurs in the nappy area, but can spread beyond it.
  • You’ll identify this diaper rash by its large purulent blisters. It is common in boys who have been circumcised.

ALSO SEE: 5 common baby genital health issues


To treat it, you’ll need to use an anti-bacterial ointment in the nappy area with every nappy change, says Dr van der Watt.

Herpes simplex virus (HSV-1)


  • All it takes is a kiss from an infected person (or the sharing of lip balm) for this virus to cause cold sores and fever blisters on your little one’s lips, mouth and face.
  • Typically, herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) will present with itchy blistering sores, but it can also bring on flu-like symptoms, ulcers in the mouth, a sore throat, fever, and swollen lymph nodes, explains Dr van der Watt.


  • There is no cure, so the best line of defence is to avoid contact with infected adults or children and sharing balms.
  • If your baby does contract the virus, treatment will focus on getting rid of the cold sores and limiting the outbreaks. More severe cases may need hospital admission for intravenous antiviral treatment, Dr van der Watt advises.

More about the expert:

Dr Hedi van der Watt studied medicine at the University of Pretoria.Thereafter, she completed her internship and community service at Edendale Hospital in Kwa Zulu Natal. She qualified as a general paediatrician in June 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch, with a special interest in Oncology and Neonatology. Read more about Dr Hedi van der Watt here

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