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Skin Care Savvy

It starts out wrinkled, mottled, and most likely dotted with infant acne. Then, as those hazy first weeks pass, your newborn's skin evolves into the stuff of poetry -- rosy, plump, and soft, enviably elastic, and infinitely kissable. But that buttery exterior comes with a price: A baby's skin is way more delicate than that of bigger kids and adults. "Infant skin needs to be protected and cared for," says Patricia Witman, M.D., chief of pediatric dermatology at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in Columbus, OH. In other words, we can't take that kissability for granted. Here's how to ensure your child's skin stays "baby soft," even long after she's a baby.

Bathtime Basics

Daily tubtime is perfectly fine. Even though babies don't get that dirty beyond their bums, it's fun and a nice way to wind them down. Just follow these guidelines:

 

  • Skip the soap. What?? Isn't soap the bathtime equivalent of basil in pesto? The Situation in the Jersey Shore cast? Nope, says Dr. Witman; it can dry out your baby's skin. Instead, look for soap-free, fragrance-free mild cleansers and use them sparingly.

  • Pop the bubbles. Before 6 months, avoid bubble baths. After that, look for mild formulations and stick to just 15 to 20 minutes of bubble time once a week. Sitting in sudsy water breaks down the skin's natural barrier to infection, causing redness and swelling. When the skin around the vaginal area is affected, the irritation can cause burning during urination, or even lead to a urinary-tract infection.

  • Slather on the lube. A quick coat of after-bath cream is as important as the bath itself, dermatologists say. Dry skin can make your baby feel itchy and uncomfortable, and lead to inflamed skin that's more susceptible to infections. Follow the three-minute rule: Grease him up within about three minutes after taking him out of the bath -- before all the water on his skin evaporates -- to lock in the moisture.

  • Get creamed. If your baby's skin is especially dry, you may want to opt for a cream formulation, which is more protective, and stick with mild, fragrance-free products. Baby oil and even olive oil are fine, too. Apply the cream or oil on your baby's entire body, being careful to avoid the eyes.

Patty Onderko is a contributing editor at Parenting and a mom to 2-year-old twin boys.

Outdoor 411

It doesn't matter if the outside temperature reads 30 degrees or 80 -- if the sun is shining, delicate skin needs to go undercover with a coating of sunscreen or clothing.

The First 6 Months:

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has long recommended against the use of sunscreen for infants under 6 months. But it's not because sunscreen is dangerous for little guys; the AAP just doesn't want parents to develop a false sense of security when they take their sun-sensitive newborns outside. So while some docs might suggest treating your young baby like a mini-vampire -- keeping him indoors during peak sun hours (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), then cloaking him in a blanket and heading straight for the shade or a pop-up tent when you do head outdoors -- that's not always realistic.

What to do: Dress your baby comfortably for the weather, always put a hat on him, and make use of your stroller's sunshade, but do apply sunscreen to any part of his body that might be exposed to the sun. For the younger set, dermatologists recommend physical-barrier sunscreens that contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

The Second 6 Months:

Once your baby hits her half-birthday, you can switch to regular SPF sunscreens formulated for children. (You can keep using the physical-barrier types, too.) What else you need to know:

 

  • Go high. The higher the SPF (sun protection factor), the better, but definitely make sure your tyke is wearing at least SPF 15 anytime she's in the sun. And throw out any sunscreen that's been open for more than a year; the effectiveness will be diminished.

  • Think ahead. Try to apply the sunscreen before you head outside; it's easy to forget once you're on the go, and even a few minutes of exposure is risky. A good idea is to slather it on before you get your baby dressed. That way, you protect the skin under her clothes, too (if you hold one of your baby's tiny tees up to the sun, you'll be shocked by how much light filters through). Then, reapply every two hours or after swimming, even if the product says it's waterproof.

  • Don't skimp. Apply an amount of sunscreen that's more than half the size of a golf ball. And don't forget the tops of your child's feet, her ears, and her nose. Good news: You don't need to use a separate product for your baby's face, which means one less thing to carry in your diaper bag.

  • Be D-fensive. Yes, sunlight allows our bodies to produce vitamin D, and sunscreen blocks the absorption. But kids can also get this bone-building vitamin other ways. Don't skip the sunscreen: Provide vitamin D through fortified milk, juice, or supplements so that your child's skin isn't at risk.

 

Sensitive Subject

A family history of allergies and/or asthma puts a baby at greater risk of having especially sensitive skin. But whatever her genes, talk to your pediatrician if your baby develops red, bumpy, or itchy patches after a bath or exposure to certain products or new clothes. She may refer you to a pediatric dermatologist for evaulation. In the meantime, use only mild cleansers, lotions, and creams that are free of fragrance and color. Stick with cotton clothing and wash it in fragrance- and dye-free detergent.

Burn Notice

No, you're not a bad mom if your little beach bum gets a sunburn. It can be easy to miss a spot when you're on SPF duty, and kids do burn more easily than others. So, hey, now you know. In the meantime, if her skin is reddened but not blistered, soothe it by holding a damp, cool washcloth against it (or giving her a lukewarm bath) and applying a moisturizer with aloe. Administer ibuprofen as necessary for pain (if she's 6 months or older), and don't expose the burn to more sun until it's completely healed. If blisters form on the burned area or your child seems to be in great pain, call your pediatrician. What about tans? While any bit of color indicates damage to your child's skin, a slight farmer's tan over the summer can be hard to avoid. "I'd rather see a family outdoors getting exercise -- and wearing sunscreen -- than staying indoors because they're afraid of the sun," says Dr. Witman.

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