There are many causes of dry or irritated skin in babies, including: cold or dry air; sensitivity to lotion, soap or clothing; too much bathing; baby acne; and eczema. Here are some general guidelines for dealing with the problem:
1. Give it a little time. Sometimes dryness will improve if you stop using soap or rough washcloths.
2. Make it wet. Apply a sticky moisturizer (such as Aquaphor, Eucerin and Vaseline) frequently during the day. Products marketed as "baby eczema creams" may also help. If you've just bathed your baby, apply moisturizer while the skin is still damp. If your baby is prone to dry skin, you may need to apply moisturizer regularly to prevent it from becoming dry again.
3. Soften rough spots. If a moisturizer isn't doing the trick, you may need something stronger, such as an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream (which comes in 0.5% and 1%). These can be used for a few days to treat the most red or irritated areas, which often clear up within a week of twice-daily applications. After that, applying a moisturizer at least once daily can keep the skin from getting worse. If it doesn't get better, see your doctor so you can try something else before the irritation worsens.
4. Do some detective work. Is your baby scratching or has he tried a new food or product recently? Certain foods, exposure to some animals, detergents, or fabrics can cause skin problems. If your child's dry skin seems to come and go, keep a diary so you can look back a day or two from when the irritation started. Also, keep your baby's nails clean and short so he'll be less likely to infect any broken skin.
5. Call for help. It's easier to treat dry, irritated skin when the condition is still mild. As soon as you feel your efforts aren't working, get your doctor's advice.
Jennifer Shu, M.D., F.A.A.P., is a board-certified pediatrician in Atlanta. Her passion is educating parents on all topics relating to children. Dr. Shu is editor-in-chief of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Baby & Child Health: The Essential Guide from Birth to 11 Years and co-author of the award-winning book Heading Home with Your Newborn and Food Fights, both published by the AAP. www.jennifershu.com