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newborn baby with skin condition

baby contact dermatitis: symptoms, causes & treatment

7 min


Contact dermatitis is a common rash that causes babies’ skin to be red, itchy and irritated. And if your baby has it, we know it can be really hard on you too.

After all, there’s nothing more upsetting than watching your baby in discomfort, and it can overtake all aspects of your life.

In this article, we have expert information and advice from our in-house microbiologist, Ciara Plant. We also help to explain why your baby might have a rash, detailed contact dermatitis symptoms, what can cause this skin condition and what you can do to avoid baby contact dermatitis.

  • 1. Why does my baby have a rash?

  • 2. Baby contact dermatitis symptoms - what does contact dermatitis look like?

  • 3. Baby contact dermatitis causes

  • 4. Baby contact dermatitis treatment

1. Why does my baby have a rash?

Your baby may have a rash for a wide number of reasons, from contact dermatitis to nappy rash to baby eczema. Here, we’ve featured some experiences and advice from a real mum and our expert.

“My baby was the only one in my mum and baby group that suffered with a rash,” says Maria, mum to 18-month-old Lucia. “So, the other moms had started to talk about getting sleep routines in place but that just wasn’t an option for me as Lucia was up so much in the night scratching. So, I felt a bit sorry for myself, as well as worrying that I was doing something wrong to cause the rash in the first place! Wasn’t a great time."

But skin conditions such as this are really not unusual: 16% of babies are affected in UK, and that figure raises to 75% in US.

As Ciara Plant explains, it's not uncommon for babies to experience issues such as rashes, as newborns have very delicate skin.

"The skin of infants and young babies is physiologically different when compared to that of older children and adults in terms of structure, composition and function,” Ciara said. “This means that baby skin is much more vulnerable than adult skin.

"Infant stratum corneum is much thinner than that of an adult, and the formation of the other layers of the epidermis is incomplete1,2. Because of this, baby skin needs special care.3

"Any product applied to the skin and not rinsed off can be readily absorbed. The absorption of such substances in contact with the skin is greater in newborns and infants for three reasons: their skin is thinner, there is a high ratio between skin surface area and body weight and the skin is covered by a sort of down that increases the absorbent surface4."

So, it’s important to know you have nothing to feel guilty about and some steps can be taken to combat contact dermatitis in babies, and help your little one feel more comfortable again.

2. Baby contact dermatitis symptoms

Ciara Plant explains that allergic contact dermatitis develops when someone touches an allergen - a substance that causes an allergic reaction. Here we’ve listed some of the most common contact dermatitis symptoms5:

  • Redness and swelling

  • Rash

  • Itching

  • Bumps

  • Blisters that may ooze fluid and make the skin peel in more severe cases

Additionally, you might notice the following6:

  • Dry, cracked or scaly skin

  • Burning sensation

  • Tender skin

3. Causes of baby contact dermatitis - what does contact dermatitis look like?

The most common form of contact dermatitis in young infants is nappy rash7. It is thought that up to 50% of all infants will suffer from at least one episode of nappy rash at some time.8

Nappy rash and baby contact dermatitis is most likely to be caused by:

  • Allergic reaction - as a result of using wet wipes, lotions, soaps or detergents.

  • Friction - this is most common when the baby's skin is rubbed by the nappy.

  • Irritation - a wet or dirty nappy can cause this, so the acid in poop or urine can cause the skin to become red and cleaning products can also cause this.

  • Infection - a fungal or yeast infection typically created in warm, moist environments.

One of the most common reasons for the development of nappy rash is the contact of chemical ingredients with delicate skin many times a day9.

WaterWipes' in-house Microbiologist, Ciara Plant says common causes of allergic contact dermatitis include:

  • Cosmetics

  • Dyes in clothing

  • Fragrances

  • Preservatives in baby products10

Fragrances and preservatives are the most frequent allergens in wet wipes; however, all chemical ingredients should be considered as potential allergens11,12. However, this is not the case if you choose WaterWipes vegan baby wipes. If you opt for original WaterWipes you’ll enjoy absolutely no preservatives, which means your baby’s skin is cared for. They’re even suitable for premature babies, whose skin is even more delicate than a typical newborn’s.

The preservatives that are used in wet wipes very commonly cause an allergic reaction with an itchy rash around the nappy area. A preservative called methylchloroisothiazolinone/methylisothiazolinone, or MCI/MI has been reported to cause allergic contact dermatitis from wet wipes.13

Ciara Plant also explains:

"Other common allergens present in wet wipes include, but are not limited to, tocopheryl acetate, petrol-based propylene glycol, fragrances, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1, 3-diol, and parabens. Allergic contact dermatitis from wet wipes most commonly appears as a red, irritated bottom on young infants.

"It can occur anywhere in which wet wipes are used, on both infants and adults. Some examples include contact dermatitis around the eyes of adults if wet wipes are used to remove makeup, hand dermatitis in mothers of young children who use wet wipes, this usually establishes more at the fingertips as dry, cracked, blistery fingertips."

For more information on causes, prevention and how to treat nappy rash, check out our nappy rash tips article.

4. Baby contact dermatitis treatment

Of course, how you avoid or treat baby contact dermatitis will largely depend on what it was caused by. When it comes to avoiding contact dermatitis in the future, it's important to pay close attention to what they're sensitive to and keep their skin away from those particular irritants and allergens.

One of the main ways of avoiding contact dermatitis nappy rash is to make sure your baby’s nappies are changed regularly and to use only the purest baby products on their skin. WaterWipes were created by a father who was concerned about his daughter’s nappy rash and are recommended by health professionals for newborns.

Ciara Plant advises the following for cleaning young infant and newborn skin14:

  • Water alone should be used

  • Don't use chemical cleansing agents

  • Avoid the use of lotions

  • Avoid using medicated wipes

Prevention is based on several factors including the use of mild, perfume-free, preservative-free, pH neutral cleansing agents to clean the skin of young infants, preferably plain water.15

Skin conditions are no fun but please remember they do clear up and you and your baby will feel more comfortable and more rested in no time.

More information related to other skin conditions & concerns

If you found our baby contact dermatitis article helpful and would like more information on other skin conditions, check out the below:

Why not give WaterWipes biodegradable, vegan, cruelty-free baby wipes a go and experience how much happier your little one's skin can be?

If you are ever worried about your baby’s skin, however, it's always advisable to consult a healthcare professional such as your doctor or pharmacist.