Skin Care for
Less Is More
Five kinds of skin care products are used most
frequently for newborns. Here is what you need to know about
each of them.
Though plain water usually does the job,
occasionally a small amount of soap may be required. If so,
use a mild soap containing olive, coconut, or palm oil and possibly
herbal extracts such as calendula. (All pediatricians
recommend avoiding antibacterial soaps.) After soaping,
replenish the skin's oils by using a soothing oil or lotion
containing saturated oils such as coconut or sesame, with herbs such
as calendula or arnica. Few babies are sensitive to these.
Many bubble bath products for young children are
based on detergents that destroy beneficial bacteria and harm the
baby's acid mantle. Furthermore, bubble baths are a leading
cause of vaginitis and urinary tract infections in infants.
This problem has become so prevalent that the Food and Drug
Administration has ruled that bubble baths for children must carry
warning labels advising parents against excess bathing of their
children. If you wish to scent your baby's bath, add a bit of
lavender oil (5-10 drops only) to the water. (Lavender oil is
not to be taken internally.)
Shampooing schedules should be determined by the
amount of hair your baby has and how oily it is. Most babies
with thin hair don't need to be shampooed all that often during
their first year. (Only do so as needed.) When you do
shampoo, a mild shampoo is best. You can recognize them by
what they don't contain: synthetic fragrances, artificial
colors, or highly allergenic and irritating preservatives including
quaternium 15, imidazolidinyl urea, and parabens.
Also, avoid products containing diethanolamine (DEA)
or triethanolamine (TEA), both of these interact with nitrites --
which may be inadvertently added as preservatives and not shown on
ingredient lists -- forming carcinogenic nitrosamines that rapidly
penetrate the skin. You will often see these ingredients
abbreviated and listed as compounds with other ingredients such as
TEA-sodium lauryl sulfate or cocamide-DEA.
The gentlest preservatives include citrus seed
extract, phenoxyethanol, and vitamins A, C, and E (also known
respectively as retinyl palmitate, ascorbic acid, and alpha
tocopherol). Most baby products you find in health food stores
rely on these preservatives.
Lotions and Oils
Massaging lotions and oils into your baby's skin can
relieve irritation. But anything you use should be free of
petrochemicals (especially mineral oil), which are themselves
irritants. Also, look for healing herbs in your baby's lotion
Chamomile and aloe have a long history as soothing
and moisturizing ingredients and have a good record of safe use in
cosmetics. Other healing herbs to look for in lotions and oils
(and other baby products) include calendula, marigold, and arnica.
The same guidelines for finding gentle shampoos apply to lotions:
avoid artificial colors, DEA, and TEA, and seek out products that
use gentle preservatives.
Many baby lotions contain lanolin, a fatty substance
obtained from sheep wool and used as a base for cosmetics.
Experts advise against the use of lanolin unless the company
guarantees it is pesticide-free. In surveys done by the
Environmental Protection Agency, much of the commercial lanolin used
in baby products was found to contain relatively high concentrations
of pesticides such as DDT, lindane, and diazinon. According to
the National Research Council, these chemicals are readily absorbed
through the baby's skin. Each of them can damage the nervous
system, and some of them are cancer-causing.
"The skin-care products you grew up with can cause
more problems than they cure. Fortunately, there are natural
One-year-old Kathy Wikholm has never suffered from
diaper rash -- in fact, she's never had skin irritation of any kind.
Her father, Gary, an M.D. specializing in family practice, believes
that Kathy's healthy skin is a result of his avoiding the many skin
lotions, cleaning wipes, and shampoos that are marketed to parents.
As more and more parents are discovering, these convenience products
often contain substances that upset the natural balance of a baby's
skin, which can lead to recurring problems.
A recent report in Clinical Pediatrics
reveals that more than 75 percent of newborns suffer rashes within
the first few months of birth, and researchers suspect that
contributing factors include the very products that promise to
soften, clean, and moisturize children's skin. As they note in
their research, "Newborn skin is relatively more permeable to
topically applied agents than adult skin. Therefore, the risk
of systemic toxicity ... is much greater in newborns."
Personal care products (for adults as well as
babies) are among the least-regulated consumer products on the
market, and are not subject to safety testing! According to
the North American Contact Dermatitis Group, many products contain
allergens and widely-recognized irritants.
"The safety and efficacy of over-the-counter
skincare products are not supported by well-controlled scientific
studies," say researchers in the Department of Pediatrics at Loyola
University in Chicago. But concerned parents like the Wikholms
can avoid the risk posed by such products by using simple home
remedies or choosing skin-care products that are free of harmful
"Babies are born with this beautiful creamy white
coating called the vernix caseosa, a collection of dead cells
and mucus that has protected the child for the entire pregnancy,"
says Dr. Jay Gordon, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"The vernix is the most exclusive body lotion a human ever sees and
should be massaged into your baby's skin immediately following
birth," Gordon says.
Instead, many newborns are taken from their parents
and immediately bathed in antibacterial soap, which disturbs the
skin's acid mantle (the skin's natural acidity) and its delicate
balance of beneficial bacteria.
"Never let the hospital personnel do this to a
healthy, full-term baby," Gordon says. "It's your choice."
If there is any blood left on your baby from delivery, you can
request that the hospital instead sponge with a little warm water,
leaving the vernix intact, and being careful not to let your newborn
catch cold. With the tips of your fingers and while the baby
is still lying in her crib, gently massage the vernix in.
"The average one-month-old baby is bathed four times
and shampooed three times every week, according to researchers from
Loyola University in Clinical Pediatrics. "Yet newborn skin is
slow to mature, and the outer layer is highly permeable and
sensitive to chemicals," says Uwe Stave, M.D., formerly of the
Department of Pediatrics at the University of Miami.
If you have to bathe your baby during the first
year, it should only be occasionally with a little warm water.
More likely, you'll only have to wipe your baby's genitals and
buttocks with a soft cotton cloth.
Most powders contain tiny particles that irritate
the skin, says Stave, and many contain fragrance, a leading cause of
allergy and irritation. Under all circumstances, avoid baby
powders containing talc. Several studies have linked talc to
The only places you might need to use a little
powder (never talc) are in the creases of the baby's skin -- the
underarms, genital area, and neck, says Gordon. He recommends
scent-free powders made with cornstarch or bentonite clay.
These are available in health food stores.
Powders, of course, are most frequently used to
"treat" diaper rash, but there are better ways. Some diaper
rash stems from high-protein diets or allergies to substances on
diapers (either disposable or reusable). Most diaper services
use strong chemical detergents that leave residues in the diapers.
Stave strongly recommends that parents rinse these diapers by hand
before using them, or wash diapers at home. Many disposable
diapers also contain irritants, although some diapers contain less
than others. Another preventive measure is frequent changing.
Allowing fresh air to get to your baby's bottom
whenever you can will also reduce the likelihood of diaper rash.
Zinc oxide and chamomile, applied to the inflamed area, will help
dry and soothe the skin. Most pediatricians specializing in
natural skin care warn parents to avoid petroleum jelly, which traps
moisture against the skin and is also a common allergen.
Related products available
in the NaturoDoc Store:
Quercetin with Bromelain
This product is very helpful in treating
irritated baby skin safely and effectively. It's not
available in retail stores, so save time and money by ordering
them online today!