Who doesn’t love the smell of a newborn baby? The sweetness and the feeling of their soft skin and downy hair as you breathe them in?
The truth is that the soft skin we yearn for is more often than not covered with tiny pimples and newborn rashes. And very often, those very same products giving that lovely smell and softness is what causes the problems.
In recent years there have been radical changes in guidelines on skincare in babies. While the industry is slowly being forced to change, it is mostly still up to parents to make informed choices when it comes to baby skincare products.
Follow Christine’s expert advice when it comes to caring for your baby’s delicate skin:
Don’t use skincare products in the first month of life
Babies are born with an alkaline skin surface. However, within a few days the skin pH becomes acidic, forming what is known as an ‘acid mantle’. This fine film protects the skin against infection, balances moisture and stores fat. Fat layers are still establishing in the skin in the first few months of life, protecting the skin against dryness and irritation. The skin also gets colonised with good bacteria or probiotics.
Even the mildest skincare products have the potential to seriously interfere with these processes. You should try not to use any products on your baby’s skin for the first month of life. Simply rinsing them with water is enough.
Baby’s skin may appear dry and cracked, and the top layer may even peel off over the first few days. This is normal, especially if you were overdue. It is not a sign of true dryness.
Avoid using wet wipes and rather clean baby’s buttocks with cotton wool and water. You can apply a thin layer of barrier cream to prevent nappy rash.
Choose laundry products carefully
Many babies develop eczema and skin irritations in reaction to laundry products. Look for special detergents for babies and people suffering from allergies. Do not overfill the washing machine as this may lead to clothes not rinsing well.
Be informed about ingredients
If you can’t pronounce it there is a good chance that it’s synthetic and possibly harmful.
Listed below are the main chemical culprits found in most commercial products:
- Sulphates, specifically sodium laurel sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulphate (SLES). These are foaming agents found in most soaps, shampoos, toothpastes and bubble baths. It can cause itching and irritation. Although SLS is considered to be more harmful, there are many concerns linked to both these products.
- Parabens (methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben) and phthalates. Up to 85% of our skincare products contain parabens. They prevent mould, fungus and other harmful bacteria from growing in products, therefore extending shelf lives. The big problem is that they are ‘oestrogen mimickers’, disrupting hormonal function in the body. Whether the amounts we are exposed to via skincare products are enough to cause physical side-effects is still in question. However, some studies have found parabens in babies’ urine after they’ve had a bath using common baby skincare products, so there is some systemic absorption.
- PEG’s – (also called ethylene glycol polymers) that moisturise, keep products stable, and enhance the penetration of other ingredients, both good and bad. These chemicals are often contaminated with other impurities that they carry into the skin.
- Petrolatum, the gelatinous substance also called petroleum jelly. It is derived from crude oil and is popular for its extremely low cost. Not only is it classified as an environmental toxin, but it may also carry other chemicals which are classified as carcinogens (substances causing cancer). It blocks the skin surface and traps moisture, which aggravates rashes. So, no longer the preferred bum cream, though many mothers still use it.
- Paraffinium liquidum, the main ingredient in baby oil. Similar to petrolatum, this oil covers the skin in an oily film. It initially gives a feeling of smoothness, but eventually the skin becomes false-dependant on it, and it aggravates eczema and psoriasis.
- Parfum, which as the name suggests, provides fragrance. Of these, there are thousands on the market. As they are considered a trade secret of a specific product, they fall into a colossal loophole in federal law that doesn’t require them to disclose their ingredients. Many of these fragrances contain phthalates and chemicals linked to problems like infertility, and liver and kidney damage.
Why not aqueous cream?
Many clinic sisters and paediatricians still teach mothers to wash newborn babies with aqueous cream. The common aqueous creams on the market contain many of the above ingredients, and studies link them to eczema and irritations. Apart from this, it doesn’t actually do anything good for baby’s skin. This is definitely a habit that belongs in the past, not the present.
Choose natural skincare products
Fortunately, there are wonderful natural product ranges available today. As these don’t use these mass produced, cheap chemicals, they are typically more expensive. For the same reason they may not foam as nicely, product consistency may sometimes differ, or they may have a shorter shelf life.
Keep these tips in mind when choosing a natural product for your baby:
- Still read the label. Just because the label claims that it is ‘organic’ or because it contains one good ingredient doesn’t mean that the rest are natural!
- Look out for products that are certified, which means that they are registered with regulatory bodies. However, also don’t see these as the ultimate guide as it is very expensive for a company to get their products certified, and many smaller natural skincare ranges cannot afford to do so yet.
- Take a few minutes and google the main ingredients in the product yourself. You will see immediately if there are any concerns.
- Observe your baby’s skin – you will see soon enough if any product is not working well for your baby.
So what then about emollient lotions?
For babies with true eczema, even natural products can cause irritations. Emollients are products that lock in moisture and form a barrier over the skin. They feel quite greasy when applied. Although not natural as such, they usually don’t have any fragrances or other ingredients added to them. Though not the most decadent in skincare products, emollients can bring relief for dry and itchy skin and it may be all you need to control mild eczema.
Most paediatricians recommend using an emollient lotion at least 3 times a day for babies with dry skins and eczema. Be sure to apply the product gently in the direction of your baby’s hair growth and never rub it in vigorously. This could trigger itching and blocked hair follicles.
Christine Klynhans is a nursing sister and South African Certified Lactation Consultant (SACLC). She currently works at Parentwood Baby and Family Wellness Centre in Pretoria as a well-baby clinic sister and antenatal teacher. She also has a breastfeeding practice and a Breast Pump Demo Centre. She is passionate about supporting parents on the journey of pregnancy, breastfeeding and the early childhood years. Learn more about Christine Klynhans.