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Diaper rash is truly the worst.
You never want to see your baby screaming with a bum on fire. The thing is, it’s something that all parents will see their baby go through at some point. Luckily, creams and pastes can help soothe their skin fast.
What causes diaper rash?
“Diaper rash is a fancy way to talk about an irritation in the area covered by the diaper. Typically, this looks like red, small bumps on the abdomen, buttocks, genitalia, and sometimes the thigh folds,” said Dr. Priyanka Rao, a pediatrician at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
It happens because, well, diapers catch urine and stool — the job they were designed to do! However, the moisture from urine makes skin more susceptible to chafing. What’s more, adds Dr. Rao, once urine decomposes in the diaper, it forms a chemical that can cause further irritation. Digestive agents in stool can do the same, she said.
In an ideal world, you’re able to change her diaper ASAP after she’s wet or dirty, but that doesn’t always happen (how many times do you say to yourself, wait, she pooped?). That’s where diaper cream comes in. “Ointments provide a layer of protection between the irritated skin and urine and stool,” said Dr. Rao. The barrier protection allows skin to heal.
What to look for in diaper rash creams
When shopping, Dr. Rao recommended choosing oil-based formulas. These will often be advertised as an ointment or paste, two buzzwords that basically mean “thick.” “Oil-based creams stick to skin and won’t wipe off with diaper changes,” she said.
Speaking of, when changing your baby, skip the wipes (they contain skin-drying alcohol) and use a warm, damp washcloth instead. Don’t try to scrub leftover diaper cream off, either. Go ahead and leave it on. And if you can give baby’s bum some air time, do it — boosting oxygen flow to skin will heal tissue.
Usually, diaper rash creams can get the job done. Occasionally, a diaper rash can turn into a bacteria or yeast infection (yeast thrives in dark, warm areas, so a diaper is a perfect environment). If you notice big, large areas of red plaque that’s spreading over your baby's thighs or lower belly, call their pediatrician who will likely ask you to bring her in for an appointment, said Dr. Rao. The typical treatment would be an antifungal cream.
If it’s a run-of-the-mill diaper rash, you can count on the 8 picks below.
Best Diaper Rash Creams
- 1. Vaseline, $1, Amazon
You’re reading that right. Petroleum jelly is certainly not advertised as a diaper rash cream, but this is Dr. Rao’s go-to, and one that can be applied for every diaper change. “This is one of the more effective products when it comes to skin protectant properties. I especially like to use it for an emerging diaper rash,” she said. Plus, it’s inexpensive, easy to find, and “one of the safest products families can use,” she added.
- 2. Desitin Maximum Strength, $6, Amazon
This product contains 40% zinc oxide, a skin-soothing ingredient that calms redness and irritation, said Dr. Rao. The paste is incredibly thick, too, so it’s great at forming that protective barrier. Many parents rely on Desitin for those times when diaper rash is bad.
- 3. Boudreaux’s Butt Paste, $7, Amazon
This ointment also packs 40% zinc oxide to encourage speedy healing. (It’s also oil-based, containing both castor and mineral oil.) It’s the perfect consistency, as it spreads easily but remains thick. It’s also available in an original formula with 16% zinc oxide, but the speed at which this one gets the job done for minor diaper rash is truly impressive.
- 4. Cetaphil Baby Diaper Cream with Calendula, $5, Amazon
Calendula extract comes from the marigold flower. “Research shows that calendula has been effective in helping to soothe skin, and it’s safe,” said Dr. Rao. This one adds vitamins B5 and E to repair and nourish angry skin. Reviewers call it a go-to product to apply to their baby’s skin when they’re dealing with general skin rashes, too.
- 5. Baby Butz Natural Diaper Rash Cream, $20, Target
The petroleum-based cream keeps out everything you don’t want in a diaper cream, including perfume, as well as phthalates and parabens (preservatives that can sometimes irritate skin), all while packing in 30% zinc oxide for a seriously tamed tush. It’s also thick (we’re talking paste-like), so it stays put.
- 6. Aquaphor Healing Ointment, $7, Amazon
As one of Amazon’s bestsellers, this baby-formulated ointment is a serious multitasker, taking on chapped skin from drool rash, other skin irritations, and cuts and scrapes, to boot. A base of petrolatum plus skin hydrators panthenol and glycerin help pump up skin’s protective barrier.
- 7. Burt’s Bees Baby Diaper Rash Ointment, $6, Amazon
Parents are pretty obsessed with this stuff for its paste-like consistency that spreads well and smells pleasant. You’ll find 40% zinc oxide (so great for the really bad rashes), plus sweet almond oil that stays on and protects skin.
- 8. Weleda Diaper Rash Cream, $9, Amazon
If you don’t like the consistency of pastes but still want a cream that’s just as effective, go for this one. Parents say they love the thinner formula that’s easier and faster to apply, but with calendula and an oil-base, it’s still just as effective for clearing diaper rash.
Looking for more parenting products, check out:
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- 8 of the best baby blankets and swaddles
- How to choose the best baby carrier, according to a pediatrician