It’s one of the more unnerving aspects of the diaper years: A baby butt covered in a patchwork of painful, searing, inflamed bumps and sores, which is the condition we fondly know as diaper rash. The worst of the rashes can cause great pain, and leave you feeling utterly helpless. It doesn’t help that diapers need to be changed, and the more you wipe that delicate baby area, the worse the rash can get.
Dr. Anna Bender, a pediatric dermatologist at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, estimates that almost half of all babies develop diaper rash at some point. Diaper rash is most commonly caused by friction and moisture from wet or dirty diapers, when they rub against the skin. It’s more common in older babies who sleep through the night and wake up with fully-loaded diapers. Your child can also develop it when he or she starts solids and the poop changes consistency, or if your child is sick and has diarrhea.
The key to getting rid of it is to change diapers often (every few hours, or when soiled), and to apply a thick layer of diaper paste to act as a barrier between the skin and the urine and feces.
“I love zinc oxide diaper paste for irritant rashes, which is the most common cause of diaper rash. The key is to apply a thick layer like cake icing at each diaper change and to change the diaper frequently,” says Bender.
Most diaper rash is treatable with over-the-counter creams and ointments, but if those don’t help, cautions Bender, it’s time to call the doctor. Keep the area clean and dry, but, says Bender, go easy on the wiping. She sees parents who “are constantly applying water to the diaper area or wiping with baby wipes, which can really dry out and irritate the skin if done frequently.” If the diaper rash is particularly gnarly, Bender recommends only “wiping the area when stool is present. If just urine is present, it is okay to just ‘dab gently’ with a soft cotton swab. Gentleness is key!”
Here are some of the best diaper rash creams that to prevent it and get rid of it.
This hands-free diaper rash spray is made with 10 percent zinc oxide.
This diaper rash spray is ideal for travel, or for any parent on the go. It contains 10 percent zinc oxide, goes on fast, and doesn’t run or get messy.
It's not cheap, but it's highly effective, thanks to its high content of zinc oxide.
The active ingredient in this powerhouse paste is 40 percent zinc oxide, and is deal for persistent, stubborn diaper rash. It’s also free of dyes, preservatives, parabens and talc.
You may not have heard of this brand, but this diaper rash cream is hugely popular in Canada and Europe and parents absolutely swear by it.
A parents’ favorite from Germany, this medicated cream is made with 18 percent active zinc oxide that can be used for the relief of itching from eczema and other skin irritations.
This diaper rash ointment contains 40 percent zinc oxide, smells nice, and is made without phthalates, parabens, petrolatum, or SLS.
From another brand we love, this diaper cream also contains 40 percent zinc oxide. It’s also got sweet almond, lanolin, and jojoba seed oil to help soothe angry baby skin.
This is on the fancier side, but the Mustela diaper rash cream is rich, creamy, and parents swear by it.
This product is gentler, and is composed of 98 percent plant-based ingredients. It’s got sunflower oil to repair the skin barrier, avocado to protect the diaper area, and zinc oxide to provide a protective barrier. Let the diaper area dry fully before applying this cream, for best results.
A go-to parent favorite, this is another affordable staple that contains 40 percent zinc oxide as its active ingredient.
Like its diaper rash cream brethren, Desitin works by forming a protective barrier on your baby’s skin to seal away wetness and soothe chafed, irritated skin.
This cream has a lower concentration of zinc oxide, clocking in at 16 percent.
This diaper rash paste is your go-to for mild to moderate diaper rash. It’s made without parabens, synthetic fragrances, silicones, petrolatum, mineral oil, lanolin, or PEGs.
Parents rave about the just-right consistency of this cream, and its soothing chamomile scent.
This diaper rash cream also has a 14 percent concentration of zinc oxide as its active ingredient.
The main ingredient in this diaper cream is calendula, which reduces redness and irritation.
The cream has a nice, rich consistency without being oily. It’s easy to apply and equally easy to rub off. In addition to calendula, it also contains doctor-approved zinc oxide.
Other types of diaper rashes:
There are other types of rashes, yeast and bacterial, that will be impervious to over-the-counter diaper treatments. Yeast rashes are caused by a moisture buildup in the diaper area, which then causes yeast to grow.
“A yeast rash often starts as a red rash in the skin folds of the diaper area and may have satellite pink dots outside the main area of the rash. The most effective treatment for a yeast rash is using an anti-fungal or anti-yeast cream to the area which your doctor can recommend,” says Bender.
And there’s another culprit, called bacterial rash. It can look like an open sore, with yellow crusting or pus, or as a painful, bright red ring around the anal area. If you spot any pus or open sores, don’t play around and see your doctor.
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