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5 Common Infant Skin Conditions

When it comes to your baby's skin, you can depend on one thing: It's bound to erupt into a rash during the first year. Why? The human skin acts as a protective barrier against all sorts of elements, from sun to bacteria, but it takes about a year for that epidermis to get up to speed and function effectively, says Bernard Cohen, M.D., director of pediatric dermatology at Johns Hopkins Children's Center. It starts out thinner, has less pigment, and doesn't regulate temperature as well as the skin of bigger kids and adults. Of course, no baby escapes the most common skin issue--diaper rash. The diaper area is warm and moist, which breaks down the skin on that tender tush. Add irritating poop and pee and you've got the perfect environment for breakouts. Keep diaper rash under control by changing your baby often, using petroleum jelly or a barrier cream with zinc oxide to protect his bum, and letting his naked bottom air out occasionally (put a sheet on the floor and let him loose). Protect the rest of that fragile birthday suit with mild products, such as hypoallergenic and fragrance-free soaps, washes, and lotions. Once your baby turns 1, you can relax a little--his skin will be thicker and more rash-proof.


What It Is: A rash found mainly in a baby's skin folds, especially in the neck. It usually appears in chubby babies under 6 months.
What It Looks Like: A red, raw, weepy rash that looks worse inside the skin creases. Your baby may not notice it at all or it may cause some pain, depending on the amount of skin-to-skin friction in the affected area.
What Causes It: Excessive moisture from drool and spitup that collect in your baby's creases, which don't get any air.
What to Do: Wash out the inside of your baby's skin folds with water and apply a zinc-oxide barrier cream or petroleum jelly to protect them, recommends Dan Brennan, M.D., a pediatrician in Santa Barbara, CA. As babies get older and more mobile--they crane their necks-intertrigo goes away.


Prickly Heat

What It Is: Also known as miliaria, prickly heat rash may occur on the face, neck, back, or bottom.
What It Looks Like: Tiny red bumps.
What Causes It: Since a baby's skin isn't able to regulate heat well, says Dr. Cohen, just about anything that overheats your little one--hot, humid weather; overbundling him in tight clothing; or a long, hot car ride while strapped in a car seat--can set off a prickly heat rash.
What to Do: Get your baby out of the heat and dress him in loose, cool clothing. The rash should look much better in about 30 minutes.


What It Is: A rash that can appear on the scalp and eyebrows (where it's known as cradle cap), behind the ears, or on the neck, cheeks, and chest. It's most common in babies under 6 months.
What It Looks Like: On the scalp and eyebrows, seborrhea looks like dandruff, although it can also appear like thick, yellow or crusty scales. Behind the ears, seborrhea tends to look cracked and scaly; on the chest and neck, it may be pimply, and on the cheeks, it's red and bumpy. It can be unsightly but probably won't bother your baby at all.
What Causes It: No one knows.
What to Do: The traditional remedy is to rub a little olive or baby oil on your baby's scalp to loosen the scales, then gently brush them off. Dr. Brennan also recommends washing the scalp, behind the ears, and any other spots with a small amount of anti-dandruff shampoo.


What It Is: Eczema can appear anywhere on a baby's body starting around 3 or 4 months, though it's not usually found in the diaper area. Up to 20 percent of babies will develop this very itchy rash.
What It Looks Like:  In its mildest form, eczema erupts in dry, patchy areas on the skin. It can also look like a bad case of windburn and cause the skin to turn red, ooze pus, and crust over.
What Causes It: Anything can be a trigger for babies prone to eczema (those with a genetic predis-position or a family history of allergies). Hot weather can cause sweating, which irritates the skin; cold weather can dry it out. Soaps and clothing, especially wool, can also spark an outbreak.
What to Do: Wash the skin with a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser--ask your pediatrician or dermatologist for a recommendation--and then slather moisturizer onto damp skin twice a day. For a more severe case, talk to your doctor about a steroid ointment, which will reduce the inflammation.

Contact Dermatitis

What It Is:  A skin reaction to something your baby came in contact with--from soaps and detergents to grass and other plants.
What It Looks Like: Red, itchy bumps at the contact site.
What Causes It: If the rash is all over your baby's body, then soap or detergent is probably to blame. If the chest and arms are affected, the culprit could be a new, unwashed shirt. Rashy legs? For some super-sensitive infants, all it takes is the unfamiliar texture of a rug or grass.
What to Do:  If the rash looks dry, moisturize it. If it's not bothering your baby, just remove the trigger (roll up the rug, wash the shirt, try a milder soap, a gentler laundry detergent). If the rash is itchy, talk to your doctor about a hydrocortisone cream or an antihistamine.