What's the best treatment for diaper rash?

It’s an unpleasant fact that if your baby wears any kind of diaper, she’ll almost surely have a diaper rash at one time or another. Many different factors can cause a diaper rash, including a wet or soiled diaper, a bacterial or yeast infection, illness, allergies, and more. 

A simple diaper rash (characterized by pink, bumpy skin that may look chafed or irritated) is nothing to be alarmed about. Here are some tips for easing your baby’s discomfort and helping her skin to heal: 

  • Change diapers frequently. Don’t wait for signs that the diaper is soaked; change your baby’s diaper often, as soon as it becomes wet or soiled. Not only can a damp diaper irritate the rash, but it provides a fertile environment for yeast or bacteria to grow. (If you’re using disposable diapers, consider a “green” brand—at least until the rash clears. Eco-friendly products may contain fewer chemicals and be less likely to irritate your baby’s skin.) 
  • Skip the wipes. Until your baby’s bottom is healed, you’ll want to clean the affected area with lukewarm water, which is less likely to irritate the skin. Use a soft washcloth or towel, or rinse the skin with running water and pat dry. 
  • Apply something soothing.  You may want to keep one of these over-the-counter ointments or creams handy for mild to moderate diaper rash: purified lanolin such as Lansinoh, a zinc oxide-based product such as Desitin, or petroleum jelly.  If the diaper rash is severe, you can try applying Triple Paste (a combination of petrolatum, zinc oxide, lanolin, beeswax, and cornstarch), or a 1% hydrocortisone cream twice a day beneath one of the products mentioned above. Hydrocortisone will help decrease the inflammation faster, but don’t use it for more than a few days at a time because long-term use can damage the sensitive skin in the diaper area. You can also contact your child's physician for a prescription cream. Whatever you choose, make sure it is fragrance-free, since fragrances can aggravate already irritated skin.
  • Air it out. Fresh air aids in healing. Spread out a layer or two of towels or blankets to absorb any “leaks,” and make tummy time diaper-free. 
  • Identify possible culprits. Have there been any recent changes in soap, laundry detergent, or diaper brand? Do you suspect the rash is related to something you or your child ate? Even as you apply a topical agent to soothe your baby’s skin, eliminate possible culprits. 
  • Consider potty training. Even if your baby is young, you may be able to teach her how to signal when she needs to use the potty through a process known as “elimination communication” or “EC”. If your diaper-wearer is a toddler, maybe it’s time to get out the potty and see if she is ready to give up diapers altogether. 

With the help of some home remedies, a diaper rash usually clears up within 48–72 hours. Signs that you should call your child’s pediatrician include: a rash that doesn’t improve after several days of treatment; a rash that has gotten worse or is spreading; pus-like drainage or crusty patches; and diarrhea lasting 48 hours or more.

Last updated June 5, 2017

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