Choosing your baby’s skincare
As an infant massage instructor, the most common questions I am asked are about baby skin care – what should we use on our baby’s skin? Your baby’s skin is super fine, the epidermal (outer) layers are much thinner than adult skin, and baby’s skin has a higher pH level. This means that your baby’s skin is not only very sensitive, it’s also more permeable and vulnerable to the absorption of chemicals. Also consider that any chemicals that pass through your baby’s skin barrier will need to be processed by your baby’s immature liver.
Smelling like a baby
Fragrances have been added to so many baby products, from soaps and lotions to disposable nappies (just open a new pack and breathe in!), that it’s become normal to associate certain product scents with a freshly bathed baby. But have you ever considered just why baby products need added fragrances? It’s certainly not to cover up bad smells from a dirty baby! Not only is your baby not out playing in the mud just yet, but a newborn’s smell is naturally delicious. This natural newborn scent is an essential part of the bonding process between baby and family members, so you really only need plain water to cleanse your baby at first, not perfumes that will influence your baby’s sweet, natural body odour. Later, if you choose a bath wash or skin lotion, take care with perfumes – they could be added to products to mask the smell of other chemicals used in the manufacturing process. There is also evidence that exposure to some fragrances may irritate babies’ skin.
Oils and lotions
Mineral oil is a by-product of petroleum with added perfume. It acts as a surfactant that coats baby skin. If you wish to moisturise baby’s skin or introduce baby massage, you can use a nourishing, plant-based oil such as olive or jojoba oil, or choose a baby lotion that is vegetable based and free from chemicals that might irritate. Also take care that baby lotions are nut free – some aren’t and your baby might react to nut-based oils. Before applying any lotions or oils all over your baby, it’s important to test the product on a patch of skin (a good place is inside baby’s lower leg where it won’t be wiped off during nappy changes). By using a single oil, rather than a mixture, if your baby develops a rash or any irritation, you will know what oil he or she is sensitive to and what to avoid. Parents are aware of the benefits of aromatherapy so often ask which essential oils will be best for baby. However, as these oils will be absorbed into baby’s skin very easily, they will have to be processed by your baby’s immature liver so I believe they are best left out altogether until your baby is over three months. Consider too, your baby will put his or her hands in their mouth, so this is another good reason for avoiding chemicals that your baby may ingest. If you are concerned, you can wipe oils off your baby’s hands after a massage.
Read labels with care
It can be confusing to try and work out what is in the array of skin care choices for babies. More and more are being advertised as natural or beneficial for baby, so what is a busy parent to do? Consider that if you can’t pronounce the ingredients listed on the pack, the more likely there will be some potentially harmful chemicals added to the product. To help you choose safer baby skin care, here are some chemicals to avoid – and how you can find them among the small print on packaging. Propylene glycol helps retain moisture and prevent evaporation, so it’s used in bodycare products like skin creams and cosmetics to make them soft and less viscous, and to have a conditioning effect on the skin. The Environmental Working Group lists an association between propylene glycol and skin irritation and allergic contact dermatitis. Look out for polyethylene glycol (PEG) and polypropylene glycol (PPG) on labels. Others to avoid include parabens, which are linked with hormone system disruption, and the antibacterial chemical triclosan, also known as an endocrine disruptor that may be harmful to the environment.
Pinky McKay is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and best selling baby care author and certified infant massage instructor. Her baby massage DVD is also available as a streaming video download here.