More than 50% of newborns have skin problems such as diaper rash, cradle cap, and heat rash. One of the main reasons for this is that a newborn’s skin can easily become very dry, which makes it more vulnerable to damage. A bunch of studies have looked at how to treat skin problems in newborns once they develop, but very few have tried to figure out how to prevent skin problems from developing in the first place.
A recent study done in Japan of 227 healthy newborns tried to determine if a new skin care regimen of reducing bathing frequency to every two days and applying moisturizer daily could improve barrier function and prevent the development of skin problems in newborns. They controlled for things like method of delivery (vaginal delivery versus C-section), sex, family history of skin problems like eczema, and birthweight. They then randomized the baby’s to two groups: 1) bathing every two days with the use of a moisturizer one or more times per day and 2) bathing daily with no specific recommendations for moisturizing. The researchers provided soap and moisturizer to the parents in order to keep everything standardized. They then asked parents to keep an infant skin diary which recorded skin problems in the diaper area, face, and body, and to rate those problems on a scale from one (least severe) to 5 (most severe).
The results were surprising. They found that intensive moisturizing care with less frequent bathing improved skin barrier function and reduced the risk and severity of diaper rash. There was also a tendency towards fewer skin problems on other parts of the body compared to daily bathing, but that relationship was not as strong. The researchers also concluded that intensive moisturizing care prevents dry skin in general. You would think that bathing your baby less often would increase the amount of bacteria they are exposed too, which may increase the chance of them getting an infection, but this was not the case. In fact, the opposite was true: babies that were bathed every other day with regular moisturizing had lower rates of skin infections compared with babies that were bathed every day.
The researchers made it clear that the study had some limitations. For example, it’s not totally certain whether it was the reduced bathing or the use of a daily moisturizer that was more important.. Secondly, because the study relied totally on parents bathing and moisturizing their children and reporting skin problems that developed, it is possible that the results are not completely reliable. A mom could say she’s only bathing her baby every other day but she is in fact bathing them twice a day. Finally, the study was performed in Asian newborns, and although the results are likely generalizable, the researchers cautioned that the study was not designed to investigate skin problems in babies of other races.
Now that we know that frequent moisturizing may prevent skin problems particularly in the diaper area, perhaps think about making it part of your daily routine. “Mommy and me” moisturizing before bedtime, for example, is a good habit to get into and is something to keep in mind, especially if your baby is prone to skin problems.