We’ve all seen pictures in books and magazines of the perfect newborn, swaddled in a hospital blanket, nestled into her parents welcoming arms. She is as perfect as a rose, with a tiny upturned nose and lovely, clear skin. It’s no wonder that parents are often surprised when their newborns present with a variety of rashes and skin conditions. The Majority of these rashes are harmless and self-limiting, and will resolve on their own or with appropriate treatment.
Normal newborn skin is thin and less hairy than older children and adults. Also, the ratio of skin surface to body volume is high which leads to increased absorption of topical medications. Frequent manipulation, hot water and harsh soaps are some of the factors that lead to irritation and skin breakdown. Once there are breaks in the skin, these become portals of entry for bacteria, leading to serious skin infections. Frequent use of moisturizers helps re-hydrate the skin and prevents excessive dryness and skin infections.
There are a number of benign skin changes that are seen in the first few weeks after birth. The more common ones include the following:
* Salmon Patches (also known as “stork bites”) are vascular stains frequently found on the nape of neck as well as the glabella (space between the eyebrows and above the nose) where they are called “angel’s kisses.” They are found in 70% of white babies and 59% of African American newborns. Although these lesions may fade over time, 25-50% may persist into adulthood.
* Hemangiomas initially appear as flat red patches that darken and spread with time. They may be elevated , bright–red or violet in color, depending on how deep they are. Rapidly growing lesions may require steroids and/or laser therapy, although many will just fade and regress with age.
* Infantile or Neonatal Acne usually appears at 2-4 weeks of age and resolves by 6-8 months. Experts believe that this is an inflammatory response to an organism called Pityrosporum yeasts. This skin condition usually does not warrant therapy unless very severe in which case, a 2.5% benzoyl peroxide treatment as well as topical antibiotics may be prescribed.
* Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema) is an extremely common itchy scaling disorder that appears between 4-6 weeks of age. It may present on the cheeks, trunk, in bends of elbows and behind knees. Many babies either have a family history of eczema and/or allergies. A good 60% of babies who have eczema or atopic dermatitis outgrow it. Medications can help control flare-ups but does not cure it. I usually recommend avoiding long, hot baths and applying moisturizers daily. Sometimes, we recommend non-steroidal or steroidal creams and antihistamines for itch.
* Seborrheic Dermatitis is the most common scaling skin disorder in infants. It appears immediately after birth, usually affecting the scalp (called “cradle cap”), behind ears, and on the face. It appears like well-demarcated, confluent red patches with greasy scales. This type of dermatitis does not itch and usually resolves by 3-6 months of age. Treatment depends on severity; usually your doctor may prescribe antiseborrheic shampoos that contains zinc and selenium sulfide. Using mineral oil before shampooing may help remove the scales. In the presence of a superimposed fungal infection with Candida, an anti-fungal may be prescribed.
* Diaper Dermatitis is a nonspecific term that pertains to all skin eruptions in the diaper area. Irritant diaper dermatitis is secondary to a variety of factors that include fecal enzymes that erode the skin barrier, prolonged exposure of skin to moisture, and the presence of ammonia in the baby’s urine. Babies with diarrhea and those taking antibiotics also are at risk. Mild cases can be treated with topical zinc oxide paste or a petrolatum emollient which acts as a protective barrier against soiling elements. Frequent changing of diapers is recommended to reduce moisture and time exposed to extrinsic factors. In severe instances, 1% hydrocortisone cream applied after diaper changes may be given.
Plain water with or without a mild soap should be used to gently clean the baby’s skin. Your infant does not require frequent bathing if you wash the diaper area thoroughly during diaper changes. Bathing babies too frequently dries out their skin especially if soap is used. Patting her dry opposed to rubbing hard, followed by application of a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic, moisturizing lotion immediately after bathing can help prevent dryness and eczema. In other words, be gentle with your baby’s skin and avoid substances that have triggered skin rashes or irritations in the past. When in doubt, do not diagnose and treat baby without visiting your pediatrician, who can decide whether the rash is a harmless, benign lesion or something that needs referred to a dermatologist.
All information contained in this blog and on our web site(s) should be independently verified by you by a medical professional of your own choosing and you should always conduct your own research and due diligence before making any decision related to the subject matter of this blog or our web site.
Dr. Pearl Cenon
A pediatrician in private practice in New Jersey for over 15 years, Dr. Cenon (we like to call her Dr. Pearl) also has two children of her own. Dr. Pearl’s husband, Kevin McDonough is also a pediatrician and they work together. She writes basic posts about topics that interest many parents, from skin care and nutrition to seasonal issues, such as allergies and colds. Her kind, approachable tone in each blog post will have you looking forward to the next one.