When you think of that beautiful, soft, cloudy, pillowy smell babies carry around with them, chances are you’re thinking of their moisturiser.
To me, the smell of baby moisturiser is usually so much dreamier than the soap or bubbles. Moisturising babies’ bodies helps keep skin soft and protect it from the elements, is good for blood circulation, and even can help them to relax.
There is no magic formula when it comes to how you should go about moisturising babies, and it’s not hard to do, but for some reason, it can often get lost between bath and sleep routines.
If you’re not into the habit of it, it can even seem a little daunting. But - as with most aspects of caring for babies - ensuring their skin is moisturised is a simple case of working around your regular routines and being mindful that what the baby needs might change in different seasons.
Why you should moisturise your baby regularly
We all should be moisturising our skin, given modern-day lifestyles, pollution levels, and a number of other factors - even our diets! When skin is dried out, it is less effective at doing its job: keeping good things like water in, and keeping germs and dirt out. That’s why dry skin is more prone to any number of things like breaking, infection, stretching and sagging,
But babies’ skin is especially in need of moisturising, as it’s thinner and therefore more vulnerable than adults’ skin. Because it’s a less effective barrier between their bodies and the outside elements, babies’ skin can dry out quicker and let germs and ‘stuff’ in more easily. So moisturising can help babies’ reinforce their skin’s protective function and also help it along in its job of growing and regenerating.
An important side benefit is that moisturising them by way of a gentle massage helps babies’ blood circulation - it’s a big part of baby massage! It can even help babies relax - in part because of the massage, and in part because of the skin-to-skin time with their trusted grown up!
How often should you moisturise your baby’s skin
How often you should moisturise your baby’s skin really depends on two things.
The first is to take time to observe your baby’s skin and routines - even the gentlest of soaps can dry skin out, so moisturising after bath times is a really good idea to nip that dryness in the bud. But it’s worth thinking about other times your baby’s skin might be vulnerable to dryness - if they’ve spent time outdoors, for example, or been swimming, or even just after a warm day. In short, you should moisturise your baby’s skin as often - or, rather, before! - they really need it.
But it’s unreasonable to expect you to stand by on alert with a bottle of lotion at all times, so the second thing is to consider how to make the job of moisturising as easy as possible.
To take the bother out of having to remember to check their skin for dryness, I got into a pattern with my baby of just routinely moisturising them quickly before dressing them in the morning. Tying the job to a habit already in place was far more convenient than having to remember it as a standalone job! It also meant that moisturising was just a detail of a daily routine, rather than a big event. So most days, it was a 60-second job, bish bash bosh! And this would be separate to a time when I would give my baby a proper massage and use that longer time to bond with them and really make it an event.
The best lotions and moisturisers for babies
As mentioned above, moisturising my baby looks different at different times. So it makes sense that there are different moisturising products for the job, depending on the situation. For a daily routine with relatively normal kid's skin, you wont want a moisturiser that is super thick and that will take ages to apply for example, or risks staining clothes. Alternatively, for a proper massage, you want something that is going to really soften your baby’s skin up and soak in.
On the flip side, if you’re like me, you want to avoid having lots of bottles and tubs cluttering up the shelf, so I would say if you had to choose, opt for a natural oil for moisturising your baby. You can’t go far wrong with coconut oil - and it has the benefit of being equally effective for hair and body. It also washes out easily if spilt, and smells delightful on babies! (If you notice your baby is prone to dry skin especially around their face, it’s worth having a read of why a separate face cream might be a good call for you.)
On the whole, I would say simple is best and less is more in this case.
One tub of coconut oil can last several months depending on how often you use it. And you can find edible grade organic coconut oil for a couple of quid in the supermarket. Depending on your preference/budget, there are lots of great brands with trusty moisturisers: from super liquidy lotions that go on really easy, to thicker creams that really lock in moisture. Then there's high-quality ingredient products and good fragrance (or fragrance-free) options. I would suggest considering avoiding moisturisers with tons of added synthetic ingredients - even ‘baby oil’ has these - they might help increase shelf-life but can be unnecessary or even irritating to your baby’s skin.
A step-by-step guide to moisturising your baby
The exact “mechanics” of how you moisturise your baby depend on when and why you’re doing it, to be honest. A quick rub up tied to a daily routine everyday is different to a baby massage for example. Here’s what I would do for a daily moisturising:
- Whether or not my baby has had a bath (because that really doesn’t have to be a daily thing!), I would usually moisturise them daily, just before getting them dressed in the morning. I chose this time because their body would be exposed anyway so it was less of a disruption. For this, I’d keep a non-greasy lotion nearby with a handy pump that can be used easily. First things first, I’d change their nappy and make sure the new one was securely in place! Even slightly cool lotion that would surprise the baby could lead to a wee soooo…. This step is really important.
- I recommend starting with your baby's torso so that you can get a vest on right away and they’re not likely to get cold. Taking 1-2 pumps of lotion in your hands and rubbing together a little to warm it up, apply to the baby’s skin in gentle, circular motions until it’s as well covered as possible. I’d do their legs next, and then - sitting the baby up, depending on their age - finish with their arms and then their face and neck.
- I would usually take 1-2 pumps for each of the baby’s limbs, and spread it out before going back over to rub in.
- You might find it easier to do their face by sitting them in front of you with their back to you.
- Don’t worry about not getting every inch of skin. Especially if your kid is ready to move about and getting squirmy, it’s more important to get the job done than to exasperate them. (On the other hand, total coverage is far more important with sunscreen).
With a proper massage, on the other hand, the focus is as much on your time with the baby as getting their skin hydrated. The steps of a massage are essentially the same as what I’ve described above, but take your time with it, spend more time rubbing the lotion - or ideally, oil - into their skin, and use the time to sing to the baby, chat to them, or tell them a story. It’s really a special opportunity to bond. Massage your baby as often as reasonable within your routine - many people recommend once a week but in some cultures babies will get multiple massages a day!
How to help your child learn to moisturise themselves
As your baby grows, involve them in moisturising their skin. It's as simple as that. Involving them in the doing, not just watching underpins everything we promote at GRASP.
Start by just chatting to your kid about what you’re doing as you moisturise them, and encourage them to have a go. If and when they’re up for it, give them responsibility for one part of this routine - be it getting them a stick of lip balm to carry around with them, or letting them apply cream on their arms before you rub it in. All the while, keep up the conversation about how having moisturised skin - with its softness and strength - will help their bodies in other ways too!