Diaper Rash: Causes and Treatment

Nov 11, 2021 | 5 Min Read

Any new parent knows the dread of opening your child’s diaper to find a mysterious rash inside. Diaper rash is an unfortunate and uncomfortable part of having a child in diapers, and it can occur at any age when your child is wearing them.

The first thing to know about diaper rash is that it sometimes just happens. Most babies will get it at least once, if not more times while they’re in diapers. Children, especially newborns, have extremely sensitive skin, and some are simply more prone than others to getting diaper rash. In fact, a newborn baby’s skin is about 30% thinner than an adult’s. About 20% of dermatology visits for babies are because of diaper rash.

Here’s everything you need to know about diaper rash, including what it is, how to identify it, the causes and how to fix it so your baby can return to their smiling, happy selves.

What is diaper rash?

You’ll know immediately if your baby has diaper rash. Diaper rash—also known as diaper dermatitis—is irritation of the skin in the diaper area. It is one of the most common skin problems your baby could face; about 1 in 4 infants will experience a rash at any given time. It can develop as early as the first few days of life and is usually most frequent around the ages of 9- to 12-months-old.

Diaper rash mainly occurs when skin has been in prolonged contact with irritants, namely poop and urine, but it could also be from creams or other allergens. Any amount of wetness on your baby’s sensitive skin for a prolonged period of time can cause diaper rash. Although diaper rash can be mild and recovery can happen within a few days, it can make babies uncomfortable and disrupt their sleep. If left untreated, diaper rash can become severe and lead to secondary infections that require prescription treatment.

What does diaper rash look like?

So you’ve opened your baby’s diaper and noticed something unusual you may not have seen before. The skin looks red and tender, and can have bumps or be flaky.

If your baby has a slight or mild diaper rash, there may be some faint pinkness in a small area. The skin may also be dry. If it’s a moderate diaper rash, the skin may appear more inflamed and cover a larger area. There might be swelling or larger bumps. A severe diaper rash will have intense redness, plus lots of swelling and bumps over a large surface area. Your baby might even develop blisters, sores or other secondary infections if left untreated.

Keep in mind your child’s skin tone as well when looking at diaper rash. Says Dr. Peter Lio, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology and pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, “Skin redness is less obvious in darker skin tones and may often appear more violet rather than red.”

Characteristics of diaper rash:

Diaper rash can present itself in a variety of ways, such as on baby’s bottom, perianal region, genitals or inner thighs.

Diapered Skin Health
  • Slight or Mild Diaper Rash: Faint pinkness covering a very small area, skin dryness
  • Moderate Diaper Rash: Skin looks red in a large area, can have smaller areas with more intense redness, some areas may have slight swelling and/or small bumps
  • Severe Diaper Rash: Intense redness, swelling/bumps in a large area. May develop blisters, sores, and secondary infections

What causes diaper rash?

In order to prevent diaper rash in the future, you’ll want to know what irritants are triggering to your baby.

Poop: The number one cause of diaper rash is poop. Poop is very irritating to skin, and when it’s left on the skin too long, a rash will occur.

Scientifically speaking, the prolonged exposure on your baby’s skin damages the skin barrier. In turn, that makes the skin not effective at protecting your baby’s most sensitive areas. The irritants in poop and urine also increase the pH, which adds to the discomfort. Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea may also increase it’s pH. Babies can even get yeast infections from soiled diapers as a secondary infection.

Urine: The second leading cause of diaper rash is urine. Did you know that newborns can urinate up to 24 times a day when healthy? That’s a lot of diapers to change! But changing them frequently is important to help reduce urine irritants.

Friction or chafing: Your baby’s skin is still developing during the first year of life, which makes him more susceptible to all sorts irritation. If a diaper is left on too long and is too wet, chafing can occur due to prolonged friction.

Allergens: It might become obvious after a few bouts of diaper rash that you need diapers specially formulated for sensitive skin. Some babies can develop a skin rash from direct contact with certain allergens found in diapers, or even in their food. Any change in diet or medications like antibiotics might also contribute to diaper rash, as their poop consistency and frequency can change due to these factors.

Diet and Medications: Changes in baby’s diet, food allergies and certain medications (such as antibiotics) can affect poop content, consistency and frequency, increasing the susceptibility for irritation in the diaper area.

How do you treat diaper rash?

Don’t panic if your baby has a diaper rash. The first step is to clean their bottoms immediately, and dry them very well. Be very gentle when cleansing, which you can do with alcohol-free and fragrance-free wipes or with soap and water. Next, apply a zinc oxide cream. You’ll want to lay it on thickly, like you are frosting a cake. If possible, let your baby go diaper-free for a little while.

How do you prevent diaper rash?

Practicing good hygiene is the best way to prevent diaper rash. That includes:
  • Changing diapers frequently and using diapers designed with gentle materials, breathable outer covers, and superabsorbent materials that can quickly absorb fluid and keep it away from the skin can help promote skin health. All Huggies® diapers are made without harsh ingredients and provide up to 12 hours of leakage. They will keep your baby dry and protected.
  • You’ll also want to use properly formulated baby wipes that are pH balanced and that can gently and effectively clean poop and urine from baby’s delicate skin while helping maintain a healthy skin pH. Huggies® wipes are scientifically designed with your baby’s skin in mind.
  • Try leaving your baby diaper-free for a while to allow their skin to breathe. This can be a delicate dance considering how often babies pee and poop, but if your baby has just gone to the bathroom, wipe them and give them some diaper-free time.
  • Change your baby’s diaper frequently and make sure you are cleaning your baby’s bottom thoroughly. Huggies® wetness indicator will let you know exactly when your baby’s diaper is soiled so you can take action immediately and change them.

When should I call my doctor about diaper rash?

Sometimes, you need a little extra help with a bad diaper rash. Call your pediatrician if you’ve treated your baby’s diaper rash and it’s been two to three days with no improvement, your baby develops sores leaking puss, your baby has a fever or you suspect a yeast infection.

Browse Huggies® absorbent diapers to find the best one for your baby.

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