What is diaper rash?
Diaper rash is a skin inflammation (swelling, redness) caused by contact with an irritant. The redness is sometimes uniform and limited to the buttocks, or diffuse, and having expanding to the perineum, genitalia, and inner thighs. When skin remains moist for prolonged periods, a fungal infection can develop and complicate things further. Healthy skin always plays host to various microbes (bacteria, fungus). However, an infection can occur when the population of one of these microbes develops too rapidly. The affected skin then becomes inflamed. The main cause of diaper rash is prolonged contact with urine or stools. Several factors can aggravate such a situation:
- irritation caused by some soaps, perfumes or creams
- rubbing of skin due to a tight-fitting diaper
- watertight diaper or plastic pants (occlusive effect)
How can diaper rash be prevented?
Even though there are several effective treatments for diaper rash, prevention is still the best option! Generally speaking, the baby's skin should be kept dry and clean at all times, and contact with irritants (perfume, soaps, urine...) should be avoided as much as possible.
What should you do?
- change the diaper as soon as it is soiled
- clean the baby's buttocks with a wet cloth (with water or with a oily non perfumed preparation) by gently wiping instead of rubbing (to decrease irritation)
- let the baby's buttocks air dry as much as possible
- always protect the buttocks with a zinc oxide-based ointment (choose the product with the highest percentage: from 20% to 40% is an excellent choice)
- don't tighten disposable diapers too much and do not put plastic pants over a cloth diaper, especially during the night
What should you NOT do?:
- avoid ointments with ingredients that are allergenic, such as lanolin, or that are irritants, such as perfume
- don't use petroleum jelly to protect the buttocks (ineffective)
- avoid commercial disposable wet wipes and irritating soaps
- don't use harsh soap to wash cloth diapers
Most dusting powders can be used, but use talcum powder with caution because its particles are so fine they can irritate a baby's lungs. Never use sodium bicarbonate. On the other hand, cornstarch is a safe and effective alternative (even though it was once believed to be ineffective).
What can be done to treat diaper rash when these preventive measures are not enough?
When these preventive measures are not enough, parents can treat diaper rash without consulting the baby's physician. Treatment is aimed at controlling the irritation and the infection. First, change the baby's diaper more frequently and apply a zinc oxide-based product every time. And keep following the recommendations listed above to the letter.
If the redness becomes very extensive or persists for more than 3 days, or if you are unsure of what's best for your baby, consult your doctor who may prescribe an antifungal or anti-inflammatory agent, as needed.