What is Diaper Rash?
Diaper rash is a common skin irritation (dermatitis) that shows up as bright red skin beneath a diaper. Cases can be mild to severe, affecting only a small area with just a few spots or a much larger area with red bumps and broken skin. In more severe cases, the skin may feel warm to the touch and appear puffy. While babies suffer this condition the most, it can affect anyone wearing diapers such as incontinence briefs. (x)
Diaper rash happens to just about every baby, particularly during the first year. It may upset the baby and cause worry for parents. But parents can usually treat the condition at home by changing diapers more often and applying zinc-based ointments. (x)
Wearing wet diapers, rubbing or chafing, and having sensitive skin contribute to the onset of diaper rash. New medications, foods, soaps or perfumes may also contribute. A bacterial or yeast infection may also cause diaper rash — warmth and moisture trapped inside the diaper can create the perfect breeding ground for germs. (x)
Adult Diaper Rash and Hemorrhoids
Adults wearing incontinence briefs sometimes get bumps or pimples around the anus. These may be hemorrhoids, not diaper rashes. A hemorrhoid is a swollen vein in the anus or lower rectum accompanied by pain, itching and swelling. Straining during bowel movements, obesity, pregnancy, staying seated for long periods or heavy lifting may cause hemorrhoids.
A warm bath, cotton underwear and limiting time spent sitting (including time on the toilet) can all help reduce the onset of hemorrhoids and diaper rash. (x) Adult diaper rash can occur alongside other skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis and seborrhea.
The first line of defense against diaper rash is prevention. Frequent diaper changes, rinsing affected areas with plain water after each change and allowing the skin to air-dry — or at most gently patting it with a towel — will help keep the diaper area clean and dry and minimize the risk of diaper rash. (x)
Preventing Baby Diaper Rash
A baby’s skin is sensitive, but it also can heal quickly. Following these steps can help heal chafing overnight. The best treatment for diaper rash is to leave the diaper off whenever possible. Fresh air naturally helps skin dry and heal. To minimize messes, place your bare-bottomed baby on a large towel and play engaging games with them to keep them on it.
If recurring rashes are a problem, apply an ointment after each diaper change to create a protective barrier against wetness. Many parents have stopped using baby powder and cornstarch to treat diaper rash because of irritations they can cause. (x)
You can wash your hands thoroughly before and after a diaper change to prevent yeast and bacteria spread. (x) Another simple way to prevent and heal diaper rash is not to cinch the diaper too tightly. Leaving a little air space allows the skin to breathe. Having the diaper on too long will chafe both the waist and thighs.
When to See the Doctor for Diaper Rash
If the diaper rash doesn’t go away within a few days, or if it recurs, talk to your doctor. If the rash gets worse — it bleeds, oozes pus or causes pain or fever — take your baby to your doctor. Your baby may need medical attention.
Diaper Rash Symptoms and Causes
Being alert and knowing the causes and symptoms of diaper rash helps make sure your baby is healthy and happy. Some signs and causes include:
The primary characteristic of diaper rash is red tender-looking skin in the diaper region, which includes the genitals, buttocks, thighs, hips and stomach. If the inflammation is mild, the skin may appear pink and dry. If it’s more severe, it may appear raw or even burnt, and there may be blisters on the baby’s private parts.
The skin may feel warm to the touch and puffy, and it may itch or burn. Babies may also change their disposition. They may become fussier and cry during diaper changes due to discomfort. (x)
The most common cause of diaper rash is irritation from wet skin rubbing together. Still, allergic reactions to diaper chemicals, perfumes or other ingredients in soaps and detergents may cause it, too. Baby wipes also contain chemicals that can irritate or cause allergic reactions in some.
Insufficiently cleaning the affected area can leave irritating residue on the skin, and the warm, moist environment can easily cause fungal or bacterial infection. Some people believe teething causes diaper rash. However, clinical research hasn’t yet determined whether that’s true.
Yeast infection can cause diaper rash. If your baby’s diaper rash persists through a course of antibiotics, chances are a yeast infection is the culprit. The signs of a yeast infection include raised skin and tiny red bumps that extend beyond the primary rash area, which typically lie within folds of skin. The rash itself may be a deeper red. (x)
Diaper Rash Home Remedies
Natural remedies for diaper rash include coconut oil, baking soda and oatmeal baths, magnesium oil, bentonite clay, aloe vera, calendula, evening primrose oil and zinc oxide ointments. Some possible solutions and recipes include:
- Magnesium Oil
Magnesium oil traditionally helps because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Clinical research has shown that diaper rash cream containing magnesium oil and calendula is effective as a treatment for diaper rash in children. (x)
- Bentonite Clay
Bentonite clay, also known as montmorillonite, absorbs moisture and has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Clinical research has shown that this remedy works quickly to heal affected skin within hours of application. (x) Mix a small amount of water to make a paste and apply it to the affected area. Let dry for 10 to 15 minutes, then gently remove with water.
- Aloe Vera
Using aloe vera as a skin soother goes back thousands of years during the early Egyptian times. (x) If the rash is severe with broken skin, aloe may sting. It may work better on milder diaper rashes. Allow the aloe to dry and leave it on the skin. Reapply throughout the day.
Many healthcare practitioners worldwide have used calendula, a perennial herbaceous plant, to treat inflamed skin and wounds for hundreds of years. Clinical research has shown that calendula oil can soothe diaper rash. (x) You can use it on its own or with aloe vera. Apply as needed.
- Evening Primrose Oil
Native Americans have used evening primrose oil, an anti-inflammatory, to treat hemorrhoids and bruises for generations. Many use it today to treat various inflammatory conditions, including eczema, allergies and rheumatoid arthritis. (x) You can find evening primrose in not only oils but also lotions. Apply a small amount to the affected area with each diaper change.
- Zinc Oxide
Zinc oxide creates a moisture barrier, helping the skin stay dry. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends leaving on zinc oxide all day long and then washed off entirely at the end of the day. (x)
Talcum powder is a standard product used to prevent diaper rash. Johnson & Johnson, it’s made of one of the softest minerals on earth called talc. In a study comparing talcum powder’s effectiveness and zinc oxide preventing diaper rash, the topical zinc oxide proved to be the better of the two. (x)
- Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has antibacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial properties. (x) You can apply coconut oil directly to the skin or use it to whip up a natural diaper rash cream. In a small pot on the stove, mix a 1/2 cup of coconut oil with a 1/4 cup of shea butter and a teaspoon of arrowroot powder, stirring gently to blend. Store in a sterilized jar in a cool, dry place. Some individuals are allergic to coconut, so watch for signs of allergic reactions — breathing difficulties, swelling, coughing or dizziness.
- Baking Soda
Baking soda has a laundry list of uses. It can soothe the skin, neutralize acids and inhibit the growth of bacteria and yeast. Mix two to three heaping spoonfuls in 3 to 4 cups of warm water. Let the affected area soak, leave it to air-dry, or gently pat it dry with a towel.
You can also use baking soda in a yogurt bath. Wash the skin with a mix of yogurt and cool water and allow it to dry. Apply a thin layer of baking soda, and after an hour, apply a waterproof barrier such as zinc oxide, petroleum jelly or olive oil to protect the skin.
You can also mix up a spot treatment by mixing 1 to 2 tablespoons of baking soda with warm water. Use a sponge to apply the mixture to the affected area. Allow it to dry and leave it on, putting the baby in a fresh diaper. Bonus tip; you can also soak cloth diapers in a mixture of a 1/2 cup of baking soda with 2 quarts of warm water before washing to get them to clean better.
- Oatmeal Bath
To make an oatmeal bath, pour oatmeal into an old stocking and leave it in the tub. Allow the baby to soak for 20 minutes. Oatmeal baths can work wonders, even on severe diaper rashes. You can also add baking soda and milk to the oatmeal for extra healing power. Blend a 1/4 cup of oatmeal to make a fine powder. Use one tablespoon of milk and two teaspoons of baking soda, and add to a warm bath. Let the baby soak for 10 to 15 minutes and pat dry.
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The Bottom Line
No pun intended, and diaper rash is no joke. Warm, moist skin rubbing together promotes bacterial and fungal growth and is the primary cause of diaper rash. Diaper chemicals, perfumes, foods and soaps may also cause it.
Diaper rash can make babies and their parents unhappy, but sufficiently cleaning affected skin and allowing it to air-dry, frequently changing diapers and applying ointments made with zinc oxide or aloe can usually clear it up quickly. Before trying these traditional home remedies to treat diaper rash, take your baby to see your doctor.
Remember that anyone who uses incontinence briefs is susceptible to diaper rash and can follow the same remedies in this article.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.