We know baby and infant skin is different to ours as adults but must of us don’t know much beyond that.
Brands tell us we need specific cleansers and moisturisers for our babies, but the reasons why can be unclear. As parents we’re often just left with a vague idea that we should be more sensitive with our kids’ skin and that’s about it.
At GRASP we’re on a mission to do away with vague ideas about what we should be worried about when it comes to our kids’ health. We’re inspiring confident parenting through easy-to-use bath and play products and clear information that allows parents to give kids the fun and freedom of self-discovery.
Being prepared to give your kids that freedom only happens when you’re confident the products you’re using are right for their skin. It means understanding what the potential challenges might be for young children’s skin and making sure you use products that address them.
Below are the facts about infant skin and some ideas for what you can do to best take care of it. It matters how often they wash or moisturise and the way in which you do it, but it’s also what goes in the bottle or bar of soap that makes the difference for your kids’ skin.
Kids’ skin is thinner, more vulnerable and more fragile
Babies and young children have thin skin. That’s not a statement about how sensitive a moody two-year-old can be when you tell them it’s tidy up time. It’s a fact that kids’ skin, as it develops from being new-born, is much thinner – approx. 3 to 5 times thinner - than it will be by the time they reach adulthood.
Technically, when we say ‘thin skin’ we’re referring to both the very top layer of skin – the strato corneum – which is thinner, as well as a thinner hydrolipidic film that sits on top of the surface of the skin.
Aside from learning some Latin, this means two things for when you’re protecting your kids’ skin. First, there’s a thinner barrier (the hydrolipidic film) on top of kids’ skin that makes it harder to protect skin from getting damaged. Second, the thinner skin layer - the strato corneum - means when a kid’s skin is damaged, it’s more harmful because there are less layers of protection.
That sounds like a combination to be worried about, but practically it often just means taking extra care to moisturise your kid’s skin than you might with your own skin as an adult. Stopping the skin drying out and supporting that thinner hydrolipidic film is an easy way prevent it getting damaged in the first place.
Kids’ skin lets more stuff in
Imagine a wall with a combination of bricks and mortar. The top layer of your skin cells is a bit like this.
Combining corneocytes (the bricks) and lipids (the mortar), the top layer of your skin creates a barrier to the pathogens the world throws at it.
But in infant skin, it’s like this skin wall is built with more mortar and the bricks are more spaced out than they would be in adult skin. In other words, the gaps between the cells are bigger. That means it’s easier for the skin to absorb more of the world around them.
So for babies and infants, it’s not just a case of ‘you are what you eat’, but often ‘you are what you put on your skin’.
Getting the right products – cleansers, moisturisers, balms, and oils - on your infant’s skin matters more as a result. Because the natural barrier is weaker and more permeable to harmful ingredients you need to take extra care to ensure the worst ingredients don’t make their way onto your kid’s skin.
It’s not just a case of a soap being good enough for adults and therefore fine on kids. Ingredients that might be okay in small quantities for adults, are not okay for kids because those ingredients are more easily absorbed by kids’ skin. The only way to really combat this is to make sure you read the label.
Kids’ skin is less naturally moisturising
The corneocytes – the cell ‘bricks’ in the upper layer of skin - contain a natural moisturising factor designed to absorb water into your skin to keep it hydrated.
(If you’ve ever wondered why your hands and feet wrinkle when you spend a long time in the bath, it’s because of this. Those corneocytes absorb more and more water from the bath around you. It wrinkles as it swells because it’s still attached to the living cells underneath).
But the natural moisturising factor are water soluble compounds, so if you spend a lot of time in contact with water, you can dissolve these compounds, leaving your skin dryer in the long run.
In infants, there are less of these natural moisturising factors to be found, so a lot of bathing leads to dryer skin than in adults. While bath times make space for bonding and play, keeping baths to a minimum will help prevent your kid’s skin from drying out and getting more damaged in the process.
The acid test
Your skin is acidic. Not like, lemon juice acidic, but about as acidic as your standard black coffee. It’s effective in supporting the skin’s defence against bacteria and fungi and it does a great job.
New-born baby skin is less acidic than adults, and then slowly adjusts to the same level as they grow up. But it’s important to note this level for the soap you choose to use on their skin.
As an adult, it’s important to try and match the acidity of your soap to your skin. But a lot of soaps are far more alkaline than your skin. That mis-match can cause all sorts of irritation, dehydration and dryness.
In babies, the impact of that mis-match can be amplified because baby skin is so much more delicate. At birth, baby skin has a similar pH level (the measure of acidity) to water so it’s best to use almost no soap at all when cleaning them. Its why most early baths are recommended to just be a simple top and tail wipe with clean warm water.
As the weeks go by and you introduce soaps, its vital to make sure you use soaps with an acidity (typically about 5.5 pH) that matches their skin. It’s a great rule for adults anyway, but even more important for infants.
The check list
None of these facts should worry you as a parent, but give you clarity on what to look for in skincare products for babies and young children. Here’s the checklist again:
- You don’t have to bath your kids often
- Check the labels for ingredients that are not good for babies (be stricter about what you use on their skin than you would on your own)
- Moisturise their skin often – not just at bath times
- For initial baths of new-borns its best just to use water
- Match the pH (the acidity) of the soaps you use to your infants skin as they grow up