Most babies experience diaper rash, which develops when their skin is exposed to dampness and irritants (like urine and feces) from a dirty diaper. Prolonged exposure to these irritants can cause a breakdown of the skin barrier, according to triple-board-certified dermatopathologist Dr. Gretchen Frieling, resulting in redness, dry patches, irritation, and, if left untreated for a prolonged period of time, infection.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to help prevent diaper rash in the first place or, if a rash has already developed, ways to treat it at home before it becomes even more uncomfortable for a child (and more of a nuisance for a caregiver). “Ideally, you’d do frequent diaper changes,” explains pediatric dermatologist Dr. Brittany Craiglow, an adjunct assistant professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. “But a good diaper cream as a barrier goes a long way.” With so much to choose from in the baby-product aisle, though, you might (understandably) be confused about whether to go for a fancy diaper-rash cream or just stick to the basics. To find the best products for keeping diaper rash at bay, we asked five dermatologists, two of whom are pediatric derms, for their recommendations. Read on for all the things they say to use — from the best baby wipes to diapers to diaper-rash creams — and their tips on how best to use them, which we’ve conveniently packaged as a step-by-step guide to preventing and treating diaper rash.
Keep the skin clean
Whether you’re trying to prevent diaper rash from forming or treating it after it develops, it is essential to keep the area clean, according to our experts. “When changing the child’s diaper, clean the soiled area gently with a soft, moistened towelette or a cotton wet wipe,” says Frieling. “Avoid rubbing too harshly and avoid alcohol, as it can dry out the baby’s skin and aggravate any irritations.” But Craiglow points out that many common baby wipes can cause irritation if they contain preservatives or fragrances, which is why she suggests using wipes that contain gentle, all-natural ingredients, like WaterWipes. “They’re mostly water but have a tiny bit of grapefruit-seed extract in them, so they’re not adding anything extra,” she says. If you find even the gentlest of wipes to be too harsh for your baby’s bum, Dr. Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, the founder of New York City’s Mudgil Dermatology, and Dr. Deirdre Connolly, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in Garden City, New York, both suggest you avoid wipes altogether and instead rinse only with warm water (using a squirt bottle for convenience, if necessary).
Regardless of whether you swaddle your child in cloth or disposable diapers, our experts say changing diapers frequently can go a long way in preventing diaper rash. As Connolly puts it, “Change diapers often, even if they are just wet. This decreases moisture, which can exacerbate a rash.” Frieling adds that you also want to avoid wrapping the diaper too tight, “as the added friction can irritate the skin.”
If diaper rash develops anyway, two of our experts say using disposable diapers may help get rid of it faster. “Cloth doesn’t wick away moisture from the skin as quickly,” explains pediatric dermatologist Dr. Lindsey Bordone, an assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center. Mudgil agrees that disposable diapers are superior to cloth when it comes to dealing with diaper rash. Bordone told us diapers from popular brands like Pampers and Huggies have a gel liner that absorbs moisture so kids don’t stay damp. (You can read more about the “superabsorbent gel” found in Pampers here). These Pampers for newborns — which are are hypoallergenic and free of chlorine, bleaching, fragrances, parabens, and latex — even have an indicator that lets you know when the diaper is wet. Another tip, from Frieling: The speed at which you change the diapers can make a difference. “The quicker you can change them can prevent the rash from getting more irritated,” she says.
Keep the skin dry
Our experts emphasize that, in addition to keeping your baby’s bum clean, it’s very important for the child’s skin to be dry before you apply diaper cream, so you’re not inadvertently locking in moisture (thus creating an environment that can breed bacteria, according to Frieling). To help ensure a baby’s skin is dry enough, you can use a soft washcloth like this one made from cotton muslin. Patting the area dry rather than rubbing the towel on the skin is also a good idea, adds Frieling. Craiglow agrees: “What I do with my kids at home is to take a dry cloth or towel or washcloth and pat their skin dry with it, so you’re getting off any extra moisture.”
Another way to help stop a rash from developing is to keep the baby diaper free for a few minutes. “You can lay the child on a towel and wait a moment before putting a new diaper on, giving the skin a chance to breathe,” says Frieling. Bordone tells us that sometimes she will even recommend gently drying the area with a hair dryer — but only on the cool setting.