Natural skincare for babies

A baby’s skin is brand-new and delicate and doesn’t need or respond well to the application of strong chemicals commonly found in perfumed cosmetics such as body washes, creams and shampoos. A newborn’s skin is thinner than that of an adult, more sensitive and without normal barrier function, so it’s important to use the mildest of skincare on these little people.

I am often surprised when I see perfumed baby products on the market. One foot out of the womb and already they are targeted consumers for designer goods! One designer company I’m familiar with has gone so far as to create an eau de toilette for babies. Synthetic perfumes are among the most toxic chemicals found in cosmetics — not something you’d want to expose to your new baby’s young skin or little lungs to. Plus, babies smell so lovely in their natural state, anyway.

When a baby is born, we find ourselves in a rush to wash their skin and make them nice and clean in a kind of inauguration to caring for our baby. However, in some cultures, the waxy vernix is left on babies’ skin for days to keep it moisturised and protected. It’s massaged gently into the skin. It’s certainly one of nature’s best defences against dryness and bacterial infections. Rich in everything a baby needs to protect its skin from this big new world, including proteins and lipids, it is excellent for natural skincare and protecting your baby’s skin from dehydration. Without the vernix, the baby would be born dry and wrinkly from constantly being exposed to amniotic fluid.

Vernix is also rich in anti-microbials that are active against certain strains of harmful bacteria, such as E. coli and group B streptococcus, so it offers good protection from nasty bugs that may be floating around the hospital. Research has also revealed that it is not only an excellent moisturiser and anti-bacterial agent, but a brilliant cleanser and wound healer. Scientists are currently looking at ways to synthesise this wonder ingredient for medical applications. The vernix usually disappears within a couple of days.

Another misconception about natural skincare for the skin of a newborn is that they need soap. Soap is very dehydrating and drying to an adult’s skin, so you can imagine how depleting it is to a little newborn’s skin. It’s important to help preserve baby’s natural oils and not strip them away with harsh cleansers. It is the resilience of their skin that keeps them cocooned safely in these early stages.

Many people choose body washes for babies, thinking they are gentler. While they may not be as dehydrating, there are many undesirable chemicals in body washes, such as sodium lauryl sulfate and coco-betaine. Look for baby body washes that use natural ingredients such as yucca and soapwort, gentle non-toxic cleansers.

The same applies to shampoos, though again babies don’t really need them. If you would like to use soap, look for those with the glycerine retained in them, and soaps that are known as being “superfat”. You’ll find them in healthfood stores or markets, usually where they have been handmade. They are somewhat less drying than many commercially manufactured soaps.

One of my favourite natural skincare cleansers and moisturisers for babies is unrefined vegetable oil. Used with water and a damp flannel or muslin cloth, oils are very effective for lifting dirt, nourishing the skin and leaving the skin’s barrier intact. You need to be careful, however, as oil can make both the baby and the bath very slippery! These oils are beautiful to massage into your baby’s skin after a bath, too. My favourites for babies are coconut oil and jojoba oil, but others such as apricot kernel oil and sunflower oil are also good. African women are big fans of gently massaging shea butter into their babies’ skin to keep it strong but soft and supple.

For a superb natural skincare cleanser, place some oats in a muslin cloth, tie all ends to create a wash ball and use it in the bath with water. It transforms into a beautiful oat milk cleanser when you gently squeeze the milk from the ball. This, however, can only be used once and needs to remade each time. Oats are rich in skin-nourishing and strengthening silica, and a time-honoured remedy for irritated skin.

If you’d prefer to use a lotion, look for a chemical- and fragrance-free one designed especially for babies.

If cradle cap develops, pour a little shampoo (see above) onto a soft bristle brush and softly massage the scalp with it. If it persists, massage a little olive oil into the scalp and wash it off the following morning. This will help dissolve scales, making them soft and loose and easy to wash or brush away.

The other product best avoided is talcum powder. Not only does it contain questionable ingredients, but babies can inhale particles of the powder, which can lead to choking or chest infections. A baby with any respiratory condition can become very ill.

Natural skincare baby balms free of chemicals are very handy for soothing any dry patches, as well as acting as a protective barrier, helping to prevent or soothe nappy rash. Look for those that are simple in their formulation, such as beeswax, carnuba wax, butters and vegetable oils. They can also be easily made by heating 15g of beeswax, 10g of cocoa butter and 50ml of vegetable oil until they melt and can be poured into jars. The good old remedy of thick pure zinc oxide ointment can also be very helpful on nappy rash and serves as an excellent protective barrier.

A far cry from a designer baby product but an exceptional skin healer is breastmilk. It’s rich in lauric acid, a super nutrient that helps fight infection. If your baby has any skin issues, try breastmilk as a topical agent. If the skin is very irritated, it’s best to seek the advice of your healthcare practitioner.

Carla Oates

Carla Oates

Carla Oates is the CEO of The Beauty Chef, a natural beauty expert and the author of Feeding Your Skin and The Beauty Chef Cookbook.

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