Seeing a baby experience nappy rash can cause significant distress among new parents but it’s important to remind them from the outset that this condition is very common amongst young infants. It is estimated that nappy rash affects up to 25% of nappy-wearing infants at any given time,1 and can effect babies of all ages.3 The incidence and severity of nappy rash has decreased since the introduction of super-absorbent disposable nappies and hypoallergenic skin care products.3-5
The unique structure of babies’ skin
The skin of infants and young babies is unique compared to that of older children and adults in terms of structure, composition and function. The epidermis in babies is 20% thinner and the stratum corneum is 30% thinner6 which increases susceptibility to permeability and dryness.7 However, in contrast to adults, infant skin has an increased proliferation rate,9 which supports the maturation of the skin barrier during the first year of life.
Baby skin is less firmly attached than mature skin and has a higher natural tendency to increase loss of water from inside the body through the epidermis, and reduce hydration of the top layer of the epidermis, reflecting a less effective skin barrier function.7,9 As the ratio between baby body surface to baby body weight is higher,7 topical agents are more readily absorbed and can therefore have a more pronounced effect on baby skin.
Anatomically, the skin of the nappy area features several folds and creases, presenting challenges in terms of both efficient cleansing and control of the skin environment, unless proven measures and materials are identified and carefully adapted on a routine basis.10
Did you know?
Skin barrier development in infants can remain incomplete until around 12 months,11 consistent with a ~3.5 X higher transepidermal water loss (TEWL) observed from neonatal skin relative to mature skin.12
Nappy rash – symptoms, causes and risk factors
These can be categorised as mild, moderate or severe, with mild presenting as slightly red irritated skin in the nappy area and severe characterised by raw, bleeding and open sores.13 Nappy rash is usually mild and can be dealt with at home.
It is not unusual for every child to have at least one episode of nappy rash by the time he or she is toilet-trained14
Nappy rash can range in severity: out of a given pool of patients, reportedly 58% have a slight rash, 34% a moderate rash and 8% a severe rash15,16
It is often during teething or weaning that a baby can become more prone to nappy rash17
It is well established in scientific literature that exposure to moisture and occlusion in the nappy area can contribute to local irritation, reduced skin resilience, impeded barrier function and ultimately dermatitis.18 When the skin becomes hydrated, it is especially vulnerable to mechanical damage and chafing due to friction from the nappy, allowing biologic and chemical irritants to penetrate the stratum corneum.10,20 These irritants, namely components of urine and faecal enzymes can lead to the build-up of ammonia from the urinary urea, resulting in an elevation of the baby’s skin pH.19 Consequently, this increased skin pH triggers faecal proteases and lipases, both regarded as the key contributors in the development of nappy rash.20
There are limited studies examining the risk factors associated with nappy rash among infants. One study reported that the prevalence of nappy rash was associated with infant maturity and the presence and level of faecal C. albicans.16 In another study, recurrent nappy rash was shown to be associated with increasing infant age, lack of barrier cream use and frequency of nappy changes, whereas current nappy rash has been shown to be associated with oral thrush (candidiasis), previous episodes of nappy rash and frequency of nappy changes.21
Antibiotic use and diarrhoea are also considered risk factors in the development of nappy rash.19,22,23 Lastly, breastfed infants appear to be less susceptible to nappy rash as faeces have a lower pH. The bile salts in the stools encourage the activity of faecal enzymes, compounding the effect.14
Preparing parents for nappy rash
Gentle and effective cleansing of the nappy area can halt the nappy rash cycle in babies through restoring the skin dryness, eliminating irritants and balancing skin pH levels.
NICE has set out a few key steps in managing nappy rash for parents and caregivers to follow24:
Leave nappies off for as long as possible to help skin drying of the nappy area
Change nappies frequently
Clean the skin and change the nappy every 3–4 hours, or as soon as possible after wetting or soiling, to reduce skin exposure to urine and faeces
Use water, or fragrance-free and alcohol-free baby wipes in order to protect the skin barrier25
Apply a barrier cream (type and application depends on the severity of symptoms)
Not necessary to bathe daily
Avoid excessive bathing (such as more than twice a day) which may dry the skin excessively. Pat dry after cleaning
Avoid soap, bubble bath, lotions, talcum powder, or topical antibiotics which can have an irritant effect and destabilise the skin pH268
If the nappy rash does not resolve after following these steps, a referral to GP should be considered.20
Practicing good hygiene is also important
Parents should be equipped with the necessary education on proper hygiene techniques:
Washing hands before and after each nappy change to prevent contamination20
Wiping should be done from the front to the back20
Keeping babies’ hands clean, relating to their hand-to-mouth behaviours, can help reduce or prevent oral transmission of pathogens. Parents should pay particular attention to skin on the facial area, which may be irritated easily by milk, food and saliva2
The role of wipes in managing and preventing nappy rash
Whilst cloth wipes or cotton wool and water have traditionally been considered the gold standard for cleaning baby’s nappy area, recent studies have consistently demonstrated across a range of clinical settings how some baby wipes provide effective cleaning whilst also being tolerable and mild, supporting their use even on delicate neonatal skin.20,27-31 In fact, it has been shown that baby wipes are associated with no increase in skin irritation where commercially available alcohol- and fragrance-free baby wipes were used, compared with cloth or cotton wool and water.25 Additionally, parents reported that baby wipes were more convenient to use than cotton wool and water.28,32
Babies cleansed with WaterWipes have a lower incidence and a shorter duration of nappy rash
A new clinical study of 698 mums published in Pediatrics and Neonatology has shown that mums using WaterWipes on their babies’ skin had a lower incidence of nappy rash (19%), compared to those cleansed with brand 1 (25%) or brand 2 (30%). Additionally, for each day of nappy rash experienced by the WaterWipes babies, the rash would have lasted approximately 50% longer had they they used the other brands (1.69 days with brand 2 and 1.48 days with brand 1). The other brands are marketed as mild and gentle enough for newborn skin but contain additional ingredients to WaterWipes. This is the first research of its kind, revealing different formulations of baby wipes can impact the skin integrity of infants.33
WaterWipes are gentle on the most sensitive skin
Containing just two ingredients, 99.9% high purity water and 0.1% Fruit Extract, WaterWipes are so gentle on skin they can be used on premature babies.
WaterWipes are manufactured under clean room conditions using a unique purifying technology. The water in WaterWipes undergoes a 7-stage water purification process which results in an ultra-pure wipe which delivers a soft feel on the skin. This process makes the water purer than cooled boiled water. This purifying technology produces a unique product that effectively cleanses the skin, without the need for additional unnecessary cleansing ingredients.
The Fruit Extract contains naturally occurring polyphenols and vitamin C which act as a gentle skin conditioner and cleanser.34
WaterWipes are purer than cotton wool and water
Based on a review of the scientific literature by its independent team of experts, the Skin Health Alliance concluded that WaterWipes baby wipes are purer than using cotton wool and water.
WaterWipes are recommended by midwives and other healthcare professionals worldwide and have become the preferred wipe for many Neonatal Intensive Care Units throughout , Ireland, UK, Portugal, USA, Australia and New Zealand.
*Moderate to severe nappy rash