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Managing new babies’ delicate skin

In the first month of a baby's life there are a number of skincare conditions that can trouble their newborn sensitive skin. Here Dr David J Atherton MA (Cantab) MB BChir FRCP, Consultant Paediatric Dermatologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital, addresses some common complaints your patients may experience

The skin is an extremely important organ, and one that we tend to take rather for granted as it normally fulfils its roles so effectively, and with so little fuss. This is impressive when one bears in mind that it is our "frontier" organ, the meeting point of the living body and an unforgiving outside world. The greatest threat to our body from this outside world is the dryness of the air in which we have to live as terrestrial, not aquatic, organisms. 

The skin of the pre-term neonate is relatively immature, but maturation is fairly rapid in infants of more than 25 weeks' gestation. In extreme pre-term neonates, however, maturation to the level of the full-term infant may take about eight weeks, and this leads to many problems, particularly a very high rate of water loss through the skin.

The skin products that may be most valuable to babies are what dermatologists call emollients, usually known as moisturisers. These can be used in two principal ways, firstly to assist in washing a baby, and secondly, to provide added protection to the skin surface to support its barrier function. The use of emollients in these two ways is helpful to all babies living in northern countries such as the UK in the winter months, when the skin barrier is under particular pressure from the extra dryness of air in the indoor environment that results from us heating our homes.

While it is now universally acknowledged that it is better to bathe babies in water alone rather than use any kind of soap or foaming bath detergents, it is my personal view that it is generally better still to use a simple water-dispersible cream to assist in the cleaning process.

Suitable creams are widely available, including Cetraben and Diprobase, which have the advantage of being supplied in pump dispensers that reduce the risk of contamination with hands in a tub. These should be used exactly as if they were soap, and in young babies, as shampoo as well. They help by removing unwanted residues from the skin, such as food and faeces, and outer skin cells that are ready to shed. They do not have a drying effect on the skin, and help by leaving a thin layer of oil to add more persistent protection.

Good skincare guidelines
Good skincare includes a number of general measures that are really common sense. This includes avoidance of irritants:

  • Excessively dry air (by turning off the heating in a baby's bedroom, for example).
  • Using no soaps or foaming cleansers of any kind for washing a baby.
  • Minimising skin contact with irritating foods, especially acidic foods such as fruit, fruit juice and tomato sauces, salty or spicy foods.
  • Ensuring that all fabrics in contact with the skin are soft (non-abrasive) and absorbent and washed using a
  • non-bio detergent.
  • Avoiding leave-on treatments that themselves irritate sensitive skin, such as lotions and creams that contain high concentrations of preservatives.

Fabrics and clothing
It is important to select the right fabrics for babies, although these have improved in quality in recent years. One should take care to choose fabrics that are soft to the touch and absorbent. Good-quality cotton fulfils these criteria, but so now do many synthetic materials or mixtures.

The way the fabrics are made into clothing is also very important. Seams and labels should be soft and nonabrasive and, ideally, they should be on the outside of the garment, not the inside as has traditionally been the case. 

Care of clothing
It is also sensible to choose the right way to care for babies' clothing. Important elements are choosing the best quality washing machine you can afford and paying careful attention to its performance, particularly efficient rinsing.

  • Non-biological products, such as Fairy Non Bio, that have a mild fragrance and have been evaluated for skin safety are ideal. Fairy Non Bio skin safety has been reviewed by Allergy UK and awarded their British Skin Foundation Seal of Approval endorsement. Clothes washed in Fairy Non Bio have been shown by the manufacturer to be as gentle next to skin as clothes washed in water alone.
  • A suitable fabric softener to minimise the friction of clothing; it is best to choose products that have been thoroughly evaluated for skin safety like Fairy Fabric Softener, the only softener approved by Allergy UK and awarded their British Skin Foundation Seal of Approval endorsement.

Fairy Fabric Care
Skin safety evaluations on Fairy Non Bio, the softest Non Bio, have shown that clothes washed in Fairy are as kind next to skin as clothes washed in water alone. Fairy Fabric Care products have been designed to leave fabrics soft and gentle next to sensitive skin.

Fairy Fabric Softener has been developed from natural ingredients and is hypoallergenic. It is made with special ingredients for mild and kind softness suitable for sensitive skin and for use on all clothes and fabrics.

Fairy Non Bio is available in a variety of formats (new gel, liquid, liquitab, powder and tablet). Fairy Fabric Softener is available in "Original" and "Almond Milk and Honey". The Fairy range is available at all major retailers.

For more information on baby skincare or the Fairy range visit: For stockists please call 0800 597 3388.