Diaper Rash: Main Causes, Effective Treatment Options, & Prevention Tips
What’s Diaper Rash (Diaper Dermatitis)?
It’s skin inflammation appearing as a patchwork of bright red skin on your baby’s diaper area.
Their skin might be red and uncomfortable but not painful in mild cases. However, severe cases can include painful, open sores. (1)
Living With Diaper Rash
More than half of babies 4-15 months of age can develop a diaper rash at least once every two months. (1)
Risk Factors For Diaper Rash
Babies can be more prone to diaper rash if they’re: (1)
- 6-10 months old
- Taking antibiotics
- Having diarrhea or more frequent bowel movements
- Having an illness (such as colds)
- Starting to eat solid foods
- Sleeping through the night, even with dirty diapers on
Causes & Why It Happens
What’s The Main Cause Of Diaper Rash?
Irritation from prolonged exposure to feces and/or urine is often the main cause of a diaper rash.
Other Causes Of Diaper Rash
Some babies have more sensitive skin, which makes them prone to eczema (patchy, red skin irritation on the face, hands, behind the knees, and other parts of the body) and diaper rash. (2)
Rubbing & Chafing
Tight-fitting diapers or clothes can rub against their skin, causing rashes.
Allergies & Irritation From Various Products
Your baby’s skin can become irritated due to an allergic reaction to certain ingredients (e.g., dyes, alcohol, or fragrance) in products used on their skin: (3)
- Disposable diapers
- Baby wipes
- Baby lotions
- Detergents, fabric softeners, or bleach used to wash their clothes
Your baby’s poop changes once they start eating solid foods. These changes can also lead to diaper rash.
Breastfed babies can also develop a rash if their moms eat something they’re sensitive to.
Bacterial Or Fungal Infection
The warm, moist environment in the diaper area makes it the perfect breeding ground for pathogens like Candida albicans (which causes yeast infection). (4)
Bacterial infections that can cause diaper rash: (5)
- Cellulitis – redness that spreads from the initial spot
- Impetigo – a highly contagious bacterial infection (usually affects the face, hands, and feet)
- SSSS (Staph Scalded Skin Syndrome) – bright red skin and widespread large blisters
Antibiotics kill bacteria but can also include the so-called “good bacteria” such as those in your baby’s diaper area that limit yeast growth. The sudden imbalance can lead to a yeast infection. (1)
In addition, antibiotic use (by mom or baby) can also increase the risk of diarrhea, one of the main causes of diaper rash. (1)(6)
Symptoms: What Does Diaper Rash Look Like?
Red patches of skin, including skin folds and creases, on your baby’s skin:
Changes In Mood & Disposition
- Seemingly uncomfortable
- Fussiness or crying, especially if they need a diaper change
How Do You Cure Diaper Rash Fast?
Your doctor might prescribe the following, depending on your baby’s symptoms:
- A mild steroid cream such as hydrocortisone
- Antibiotics (for a bacterial infection)
- Antifungal cream (for a yeast infection)
IMPORTANT: Don’t use steroid creams unless prescribed by your pediatrician. Strong steroids can be harmful to your baby. (1)
What If Diaper Rash Persists?
Your doctor might:
- Change the medication
- Refer your baby to a dermatology specialist (doctor for skin conditions)
Prevention: Can You Avoid Diaper Rash?
Apply Diaper Cream
Diaper cream with zinc oxide (such as Desitin) is among the most effective over-the-counter options to prevent diaper rash.
Keep Your Baby’s Skin Dry & Clean: Is A Bath Good For Diaper Rash?
Bath your baby or clean their diaper area with warm water and fragrance-free soap.
If poop sticks to their skin, use gentle baby wipes, moist washcloths, or wet cotton balls.
Use a squirt bottle to wash the area if the rash is severe.
Pat dry. Don’t rub.
Air dry your baby’s bottom by letting them go diaper-free for a few hours, especially if they’re done pooping.
Choose Absorbent Diapers
Pick diapers that are absorbent and can lock moisture away from your baby’s skin.
Change The Diapers Often
Don’t wait until your baby’s diapers are filled to capacity.
IMPORTANT: Change the diapers immediately if they pooped.
Check Your Baby’s Diaper Size & Fit
Using diapers that are too tight can lead to chafing. Choose the right size.
Don’t put the diaper on too tightly.
Practice Good Hygiene
Wash your hands properly after changing diapers to prevent the spread of pathogens.
Care Advice: Home Remedies & Lifestyle Changes
A 2017 study found that breastmilk can be effective for diaper rash. (7)
A 2007 study showed that witch hazel could be a safe remedy for diaper rash and other skin disorders. (8)
Aloe Vera & Calendula
Both can be effective remedies for diaper rash, but calendula might work better in reducing the rash sites. (9)
A 2014 study showed that shampoo clay could be more effective than calendula. (10)
Other Natural Remedies
- Evening primrose
- A mixture of beeswax, olive oil, and honey
Consult your pediatrician before using natural remedies for treating diaper rash because some substances might promote bacterial growth.
Switching To A New Type Of Diaper: Cloth Vs. Disposable Diapers
Diaper rash can be less common with disposable diapers than with cloth diapers. However, if you prefer using cloth diapers, be sure to change them often. (1)
Washing Cloth Diapers
- Use mild, unscented soap.
- Don’t use fabric softeners.
Products To Avoid
Don’t use cornstarch or baby powder while your baby has diaper rash because it can build up in skin creases and hold moisture. (11)
Avoid products with the following ingredients: (11)
- Propylene glycol
- Petroleum jelly
- Baking soda
- Boric acid
Is Vaseline Good For Diaper Rash?
Petroleum jelly products like Vaseline can help prevent and treat diaper rash, but they’re considered minimally toxic. Only use it with your pediatrician’s advice. (12)
Diaper Rash Outlook
Diaper rash typically goes away after 2-3 days of treatment but could also last longer, especially if there’s an underlying medical condition.
Kids typically stop having a diaper rash once they’re potty trained and no longer using diapers.
What Can Be Mistaken For Diaper Rash?
Some conditions with similar symptoms: (3)
- Psoriasis – a chronic skin condition that causes itchy, red scaly skin patches
- Baby acne or pimples – small red or white bumps on your baby’s skin that aren’t painful or contagious
- Congenital syphilis – rashes with fever, yellowish skin, and anemia (low iron levels in the blood)
- Miliaria – rash caused by prickly heat
- Granuloma gluteale infantum – reddish-purple nodules
- Seborrheic dermatitis – reddish skin in oily areas, including the face, chest, and eyelids
- Side effects or allergic reactions to vaccines or medications
When To See Your Doctor
Reasons to call your pediatrician: (1)
- Irritated skin doesn’t improve or gets worse after 2-3 days of home treatment
- Irritated skin bleeds, oozes, or itches
- Blisters or pus-filled sores
- Pain with a bowel movement or urination
- Diarrhea that lasts more than 48 hours
- Condition doesn’t improve even with antibiotics (the diaper rash might be due to yeast infection)
How To Prepare For Your Appointment
What To Do
Prepare a list of the following:
- Your baby’s signs and symptoms
- How long has your baby had diaper rash
- Your baby’s medical condition, including any medications or illness
- Your baby’s food intake or any diet changes
- Your diet, medications, and medical history if you’re breastfeeding
- Products that touch your baby’s skin, such as diaper brands, soaps, lotions, laundry detergent, oils, and powders
- Questions you want to ask your doctor
You can also bring the products you suspect to be causing your baby’s diaper rash so your doctor can check the label.
Questions To Ask Your Doctor
Some questions to ask your doctor after showing them your list:
- What’s the most likely cause of my baby’s diaper rash?
- What treatment can help my baby’s skin heal?
- What diaper creams, ointments, lotions, or pastes would you recommend?
- Should I avoid exposing my little one to certain foods (through breast milk or their diet)?
- Is my baby’s rash a sign of an internal medical condition?
What To Expect
Your doctor will likely:
- Ask more questions about your baby’s medical history and related matters
- Make a diagnosis based on your baby’s symptoms and medical history
- Prescribe your baby’s medication
- Recommend products and brands that might be safer for babies
Diaper Rash Diagnosis
- Physical examination by your pediatrician
- Skin tests if your doctor suspects the rash might be due to an allergy
What You Can Do
You can try the home remedies and prevention tips above to help ease your baby’s symptoms while waiting for your appointment.
(7) Seifi, B., Jalali, S., & Heidari, M. (2017). Assessment Effect of Breast Milk on Diaper Dermatitis. Dermatology reports, 9(1), 7044. https://doi.org/10.4081/dr.2017.7044
(9) Hebert A. A. (2021). A new therapeutic horizon in diaper dermatitis: Novel agents with novel action. International journal of women’s dermatology, 7(4), 466–470. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijwd.2021.02.003