Babies’ skin: its main features and how to care for it

Babies’ skin: what are the differences with adult skin?

As with all parts of the body, babies’ skin changes from the first few months of their lives and continues as they grow. It must gradually become accustomed to contact with the air and lower temperatures, as well as how to protect itself from potential external stressors. Compared to adult skin, it differs in 3 main ways:

  1. the epidermis is thinner. Specifically, the stratum corneum is thinner, which is the skin’s main “barrier”, thus the skin is more permeable to the dangers coming from external agents (irritants, allergens and pathogenic micro-organisms);
  2. sebaceous secretion is as-yet inactive. Consequently, the hydrolipidic film is poorly developed precisely in the lipid section, i.e. the fat part, which is important for maintaining skin hydration;
  3. skin pH is slightly higher. Thus the skin has less acid protection and buffering capacity. The skin’s pH also helps to protect it from hostile micro-organisms and if it rises, this can allow mycotic-bacterial infections to develop.

These characteristics indicate that the barrier function of the epidermis, i.e. its “shielding” ability is diminished and thus babies’ skin is subject to more dehydration, dryness and is more vulnerable to external stressors.

Fragile and immature, babies’ skin also needs special attention when exposed to the sun, because their melanocytes are not very active and therefore they have a lower ability to produce melanin.

How to treat babies’ skin

As it is more vulnerable, the fundamental daily care for babies’ skin - cleansing and protection - requires specially formulated products to respect the delicate balance of the skin. Thus it is crucial that we know how to treat babies’ skin. Furthermore, it is important that we choose cosmetics that are clearly indicated for children, without potentially irritating and/or sensitising ingredients, such as fragrance allergens or certain preservatives.

Cosmetics for newborns and babies fall into three main categories:

  • cleansing products;
  • protective products for the nappy area;
  • emollient and hydrating products for the face and body.

Cleansing babies’ skin

Cleansing babies’ skin is crucial to remove any potential irritants, such as saliva, nasal secretions, urine, faeces, dirt and pathogenic bacteria.
Prolonged contact with the above irritants, especially in the nappy area, can actually lead to redness, skin irritation, infections and changes to the barrier function.

Precisely because it is done regularly, and in sensitive areas, especially delicate products must be used, which have been formulated with highly tolerable surfactants – namely gentle anionic, amphoteric or non-ionic surfactants. It is important the we avoid using traditional anionic surfactants (e.g. SLES), which are cheaper yet have a stronger cleaning power that is much too much for our babies’ delicate skin. For extra-gentle cleaning, lipid ingredients are often added, such as oils, plant or otherwise, to soften the formulation.

Right from their first few days of life, a non-foaming oil cleanser may be suitable for their daily bath. When poured into the water, it forms a milky emulsion that cleanses the skin without altering it, protecting it from dryness and helping to counteract any flaking.

For the face and body, both for quick washes and their daily bath, you can also opt for a slightly foaming cream product. Perfect for cleansing without altering the delicate hydrolipid balance, it leaves the skin soft and hydrated.

When outside of the home, it is a good idea to always have cleansing wipes at hand, for nappy changes and cleaning their face and hands. All the better if these wipes are made with soft fabric enriched with soothing ingredients. 

In regards to their hair, babies’ hair undergoes many transformations up until they are a year and a half, after which it begins to settle down, also in relation to colour.
Generally, at birth newborns only have the fine baby hair that grew during the nine months of pregnancy, which is destined to fall out and change as they grow. For your child’s first few weeks of life, you can use the same product you use for their baths on their hair.
Afterwards, and even more so if their hair is kept longer, for little girls for example, special shampoos are available that are particularly gentle and therefore also more suitable for frequent washes.

For cradle cap

Cradle cap is a kind of seborrhoeic dermatitis that affects babies which is extremely common and is generally found on the heads’ of newborns, probably due to the maternal hormones stimulating their sebaceous glands. If your child suffers from this, you can use a shampoo, as long as it is rich in emollient and soothing substances to soften the crust and help it fall off. 

Protective products for the nappy area

In the groin area, babies’ skin is subject to the rubbing and chafing of their nappies, as well as moisture caused by urine build-up and contact with faeces. It is likely therefore that, despite their mother’s tender loving care, nappy rash can occur in this area. This form of dermatitis, albeit common and often temporary, must not be underestimated because of the high risk of infection from both bacteria and fungi (e.g. candida).

To prevent this, in addition to changing their nappy frequently, we recommend gently cleansing and drying the skin well, especially in any creases or folds of skin, and then applying a light layer of a protective cream which, creating a barrier on the skin, keeps it from getting wet.

These creams generally contain a  high percentage of zinc oxide (10%), a mineral ingredient that also has soothing and slightly antiseptic properties. Often, in addition to the barrier function of zinc oxide, they also contain ingredients with soothing properties to combat any redness and irritation.

Right from their first few days of life, protective creams can be applied to other parts of the body in addition to the nappy area, for example, when redness or irritation occurs due to environmental agents (the wind and the cold).

Emollient and hydrating products for the face and body

To hydrate and protect babies’ delicate skin, we can use fluid products, such as creams and emulsions, every day.  These products help to compensate for the reduced sebaceous secretion of a baby's skin and often also contain active ingredients with soothing and repairing properties, which are useful in the case of any redness occurring.