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An Expert Guide to Managing Sensitive Newborn Skin: Do's and Don'ts

Dr. Chase Parsons

Dr. Chase Parsons

An Expert Guide to Managing Sensitive Newborn Skin: Do's and Don'ts An Expert Guide to Managing Sensitive Newborn Skin: Do's and Don'ts

Explore the tender world of newborn skin care in this must-read for new parents, featuring insights from Dr. Chase Parsons, a Pediatric Hospitalist and expert at TINYHOOD. Dr. Parsons demystifies the sensitivity of baby skin and shares invaluable advice on the essential do's and don'ts to keep your little one happy and comfortable.

Whether you're a first-time parent or a seasoned pro, these insights will ensure your baby's skin is nurtured from the start.

You know that phrase “baby-soft skin”? Well, it only tells part of the story. Because, yes, your newborn’s skin is soft, but it’s also super sensitive and prone to irritation.

I know as a new parent, you have plenty to manage already between diaper changes, feeding schedules, and wake windows, but managing newborn skin sensitivity is another important aspect of overall baby care. By properly caring for your newborn’s skin, you can help prevent common skin issues, like eczema, which is often alarming for new parents to see and can even be uncomfortable for babies in certain cases.

So what does properly caring for your newborn’s skin look like? I’m going to break it down for you here, sharing the do’s and don’ts I tell all my patients when it comes to sensitive newborn skin. But before we dive into the “what,” let’s understand why newborn skin is so sensitive in the first place.

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Why is newborn skin so sensitive?

It’s important to remember that the skin is an organ. Actually it’s the largest organ in the body. And as with all other organs in a newborn’s body, the skin is still growing and developing.

By the time your child is two, their skin barrier will be fully developed, but before then, it isn’t able to retain moisture or resist irritants like the skin of adults or even older children can. That’s why newborn skin is so prone to issues like dryness and contact rashes.

The lack of a full skin barrier also makes newborn skin highly absorbent, so you need to be careful about the products you use, especially those like lotions, body washes, and laundry detergents that will come into contact with your baby’s skin. But what should you look for when it comes to products and what should you avoid? Keep reading!


Do’s for Sensitive Newborn Skin

When it comes to newborn skin care, I like the mindsets laid out by Johns Hopkins Children’s Center dermatologist Kate Püttgen, M.D.: “less is more” and “bland & simple.”

Here’s how these mindsets play out in practice.


Limit baths.

While baths may become part of your nightly routine as your baby gets older, in the early months, you want to limit the number of baths you give your baby. I tell new parents to aim for three baths a week. This is enough to make sure your baby is clean, but won’t risk drying out their skin.

And when you do give your baby a bath, wash them with fragrance-free, gentle baby cleansers. Scented soaps and cleansers often contain chemicals that can irritate sensitive newborn skin. Keep in mind that lukewarm baths are best for sensitive skin, as hot baths can exacerbate eczema.


Maintain newborn skin hydration.

Products like lotions are not necessary if your baby’s skin looks hydrated. But if you ever notice your baby’s skin is looking dry, you can apply a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic baby lotion to their skin after the bath, when the skin is most absorbent. Make sure to use a lotion that is marketed for babies, since adult lotions may have additives and other irritants that are too harsh.

And it may seem like a silly thing, but use one that comes in a tub. They tend to be thicker, which is really what you need when it comes to eczema. The lotions that come in tubes or pump bottles — even if they are marketed for eczema treatment — tend to be too thin.


Choose the right fabrics.

Synthetic fabrics like polyester or nylon blends do not breathe as well as natural materials and they can contain ingredients that can be irritating to sensitive newborn skin.

The best fabrics for newborn skin are natural ones like cotton and bamboo, like the Lunaluxe™ Bamboo that Little Sleepies uses to make their clothing and pajamas.


Buy baby-friendly detergents.

If you feel like you are doing all the right things and your baby is still struggling with dry skin and unexplained rashes, take a look at your baby laundry care routine. Detergents can often be irritants, particularly those made with dyes.

Look for a detergent that’s hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, and dye-free. And remember to not just wash your baby’s clothes with it, but also their bedding, swaddles, and receiving blankets.

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Don'ts for Sensitive Newborn Skin

Now that we’ve talked about what to do, let’s talk about what to avoid when it comes to newborn skin care. Here are four things I caution my patients about.


Don’t scrub.

When you are giving your baby a bath, there is no need to scrub their skin clean. Apply your baby cleanser gently and wash it away with water or the help of a soft wash cloth.


Don’t use scented products.

While scented lotions, body washes, and in-wash laundry scent boosters may smell amazing, these products often get their scents from chemical additives that can be harsh on newborn skin. Opt for fragrance-free lotions, body washes, shampoos, and detergents.


Don’t ignore winter dryness.

If you live in an area that experiences dry winter air, consider running a humidifier in your baby’s nursery. This will keep the humidity levels such that they prevent your baby’s skin from drying out while they sleep. If you do use a humidifier, make sure to clean it regularly using the process outlined in your user manual to prevent mold and other bacteria from building up.


Don’t ignore your gut.

If you feel like you are doing everything right when it comes to caring for your newborn’s skin and they have persistent or worsening rashes, call your pediatrician. There may be environmental factors or allergies at play. Your pediatrician can help you identify the cause and find a solution, or refer you to a pediatric dermatologist if needed.


When in doubt, remember what Johns Hopkins advises when it comes to baby skin care: less is more, and bland & simple. This means looking for skin care products that are hypoallergenic and free of dyes, fragrances, and other harsh chemicals, and choosing clothing brands like Little Sleepies that focus on natural, breathable fabrics.

And if you are looking for specific advice on how to combat skin conditions like cradle cap, eczema, and diaper rash, you can check out my Tinyhood class Skin Conditions: Cradle Cap, Fungal Diaper Rash, Eczema, and More. In it, I offer my best at-home methods for identifying, treating, and even preventing the most common newborn skin conditions.

Learn more about safety, common illnesses & skin conditions here.


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