No discussion about infant skin conditions would be complete without a mention of the diaper area. At any one time in America, up to 15 percent of infants will have some type of a diaper rash. Irritant diaper dermatitis is caused by contact with urine and stool. The acidity, frequency, and consistency of the stool, as well as the pH of the urine all play a role in the development of red, often painful areas on the skin. The areas most likely to be affected are those most directly in contact with urine and stool, thus, the hidden creases between legs and groin are often spared.
The long debate over whether cloth or disposable diapers were more protective against rashes seems to be settled. Improved technology used in disposables makes them more absorbent and better able to hold moisture away from the skin.
In contrast, candida diaper dermatitis, a yeast infection, grows most readily in creases and the places hidden from fresh air. This rash often starts in creases and grows outward, with small, isolated red bumps at its outer boundaries. Other possible causes of diaper rashes are contact allergies and bacterial infections, the latter sometimes requiring antibiotics.
Simple measures can be taken to help prevent diaper dermatitis. Change diapers often and soon after they are soiled. Avoid harsh cleaning agents and chemicals, and use a thick, (usually white) ointment containing zinc oxide (e.g. Desitin, A&D) to create a barrier between skin and stool and urine. Yeast infections are less likely if the diaper area is allowed to air dry occasionally.
Another very common rash appearing in the first few months of life, seborrheic dermatitis is popularly known as cradle cap. It is a flaky, dry rash with greasy scales that affects the scalp, but sometimes also extends to the eyebrows and face. This rash usually bothers parents more than it bothers their babies, but it can become quite unsightly. It is eventually outgrown, but there are two strategies that are easy and offer some help. The first is to use a diluted anti-dandruff shampoo containing selenium (e.g. Selsun Blue, Tegrin) twice a week. The other involves massaging mineral oil gently into the scalp, them combing it through. A mild steroid cream prescribed by a doctor can help in more severe cases.
Though most infant rashes and skin conditions aren't dangerous, any rash that seems severe, is very bothersome, or is accompanied by a fever or an ill-appearing child should be seen promptly by a healthcare provider.