Diaper Rash Treatment Guide

While diaper rash, or diaper dermatitis, is the most common skin irritation among babies, uncovering those tender red patches on your child’s bottom can still be really upsetting for you and obviously uncomfortable for baby. Luckily, as any time-tested parent will share, it’s fairly easy to learn to recognize diaper rash symptoms as well as which diaper rash treatment is most effective for your unique little one.

What Is Diaper Rash?

A diaper rash is the skin’s way of saying that the area in and around a diaper is not happy. Such rashes can occur at any age when a diaper is in use, starting as early as one week, but are most common among babies ages 9-12 months old. And they really are common: 50-60% of all babies will experience at least one diaper rash.

What Causes Diaper Rash?

You’ve likely heard before that diaper rash is a result of extended exposure to a dirty diaper, particularly if your baby is experiencing watery stools. Sitting in a urine-soaked or poop-soiled diaper for any extended period of time is almost certain to cause the skin to react adversely because those substances are literally the body’s way of getting rid of waste. However, diaper rashes are also a common effect of prolonged excrement exposure because that warm, moist environment within the diaper is the ideal space for a fungal infection, particularly yeast, to thrive. Yet while such overproduction of the naturally present yeast known as candida albicans is one other possible source, there are still other possible diaper rash causes that are important to be aware of.

Tight-fitting diapers, for instance, can also cause rubbing and chafing which will irritate and dry out baby’s skin to cause flaking. New hygiene products, such as baby wipes, diapers, soaps, or detergents, may also be causing irritation to baby’s delicate skin. Chemicals that pose no trouble to your own skin may be too harsh for baby’s, which is up to 30% thinner than that of an adult.

Finally, the introduction of new foods, particularly those that are acidic such as citrus fruits, pineapple, and tomato-based goods, may also contribute to a baby diaper rash. Even a breastfed baby may experience diaper rash symptoms if mom has consumed a high concentration of these foods.

What Does Diaper Rash Look Like?

Just as there are a variety of diaper rash causes, not all diaper rashes look the same. General diaper rash symptoms include vibrant red patches - think “a bad sun burn” - on the buttocks, genitals, or thighs and cause distress for baby, especially when being changed or washed in that area. It’s not unusual for a baby with a diaper rash, especially a severe diaper rash, to be consistently fussier than usual or to pull or tug at their diaper area.

Other indicators to look for include red dots scattered around the creases of baby’s skin, which can indicate a yeast infection as the diaper rash culprit.

Visible signs that your baby may be experiencing something other than diaper rash include itchiness, sores that bleed or ooze, and resistance to or worsening of the rash in light of home remedies. Similarly, if the rash extends beyond the diapered area or is accompanied by fever, a diaper rash is not the primary issue. In such instances, consult with your pediatrician.

Diaper Rash Treatment

Looking for the best diaper rash remedy? A few simple steps can often provide quick relief and learning about them can also help you understand how to prevent diaper rash.

  • Change baby frequently. Many disposable diapers include a highlight color that appears on the outside of the diaper when the inside of baby’s diaper is wet, helping signal when a change is needed.
  • When changing, opt for unscented baby wipes or warm water and a mild cleanser, allowing baby to completely air dry or gentle patting dry before replacing with a fresh diaper. Allowing baby to roam completely diaper free, can also provide optimal air flow to a diaper rash as well.
  • While these basic measures are all helpful, many parents find readily available over-the-counter zinc oxide products provide diaper rash relief much faster. The thick, rich protective barrier created by these pastes seals out wetness, allowing the affected skin to heal. When applying, be sure to apply liberally with a thick layer that completely covers the affected area and to do so during every diaper change. And a quick note to first-time parents: don’t be embarrassed when a more seasoned parent suggests you’re not applying nearly enough.

How To Prevent Diaper Rash

As mentioned above, some of the same steps for diaper rash treatment can be used to keep baby from getting diaper rashes in the first place. Frequent changing, patting dry, and diaper-free time are all effective in keeping baby’s bottom clear. Everyday use of a fragrance-free emollient cream with a lower concentration of zinc oxide will help prevent diaper rash from occurring to begin with, but can also transition to a diaper rash treatment when necessary. (Pro tip: Chances are good that there will be a baby playdate when a fellow parent discovers a diaper rash and you’ll be a total hero with that cream on hand!)

To avoid chafing, ensure baby’s diapers, whether cloth or disposable, fit properly. Remember that diaper weight guides are based on averages, and baby’s proportions may be such that he or she requires one size up if they have especially bulky thighs or midsection. If you see red indentations on the skin when changing baby, either loosen the fit or opt for a larger size. This all-purpose healing ointment is also a great solution for dry or chaffed skin on babies, kids, or adults and well worth keeping on hand.

However, of all the preventative steps a parent can take, potty-training as soon as baby has reached an appropriate age is the most effective method to prevent diaper rash. It completely eliminates the warm, moist diaper environment that supports fungal and bacterial growth, and omits the possibility of diaper chaffing.