Friday, June 10, 2011All about babies

Our baby's skin and its very specific properties

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A baby’s skin requires specific cares and meticulous attentions; but do you know why? The skin of a very young child, even more an infant’s, has very specific characteristics, all in frailty, sensitivity and lack of protection. A picture of a baby’s skin … to help you choose the most suitable cosmetics!

Reading time
~ 7 minutes

Smooth and velvety, often said as similar to peach or apricot skins; smooth, soft, smelling good, good enough to eat, perfect to welcome hugs and gentle stroking … Babies’ skin is mythically seen as an immaculate and silky perfection. Their skins are often far from this perfection. Their specific properties require suitable care.

A very specific epidermis

For sure, a baby’s skin is first a skin, with a structure very similar to the skin of any human. Nevertheless, it is also a not yet mature organ, more fragile, more sensitive, with specific characteristics: to summarize, similar but different.

It is also the organ, which faces peculiar drawbacks, such as diaper rash , cradle cap, the nappy rubbing … Further, due to the small size of a baby, its surface is in proportion far larger than an adult’s. This leads to specific consequences.

The newborn’s skin

When he appears out of his mother’s womb, the newborn is coated with a kind of waxy layer, called vernix caseosa. Made of sticky sebum and cells that have sloughed off the fetus's skin, it protects the epidermis during the in-utero aquatic life. Its thickness depends on the time spent in utero by the infant. Desquamation occurs within hours or days, when it is no longer useful.

The elegance of nature: a survey of 430 newborns has confirmed that vernix caseosa is a moisturizer and an antioxidant. It maintains the acidic pH of the epidermis , therefore, acts as a barrier, especially against aggressions and infections. Letting it on the skin helps the skin to put in place its hydrolipidic film and its flora.

So, the vernix caseosa should be left on the newborn’s skin. What is the situation? Most often, it is wiped-off as soon as possible! The newborn is washed-off immediately after his birth with some cosmetic detergent and given back his mother, fresh and baby pink!

The truth is that this waxy and grayish layer, which displays uneven scaly patches is not that pleasant to look at. Exactly, the opposite of the image of a bouncing baby…

A tip

More and more dermatologists and midwives advise to use only water to wash the newborn for few days, and no bath until the vernix caseosa has completely been washed off. Do not balk at asking for that in the maternity ward! (if too late for your first baby, it will be useful for the second!).

The newborn’s skin

Back home, everyone raves about the fine texture of baby’s skin. Indeed, its stratum corneum is thinner … which, as a consequence, makes it less protective.

• Dry, reactive and delicate

The sweat glands and the sebaceous glands of newborns are not yet fully functional. Eventually, they form the hydrolipidic film (made of sweat and sebum ), which protects the skin, maintain the neutral pH of the skin, fights the development of microbes and helps to balance the thermogenesis of the body.

However, initially, these glands, still immature, are concentrated in the palms of the hands, in the soles and on the head of the newborn. Babies have trouble to adjust their body temperature (they are especially sensitive to low and high temperatures) and, generally speaking, are badly protected against aggressions.

Their skin, more fragile than adults’, dries easily and react more strongly to all the potentially irritating substances. It is also more receptive to sensitizing ingredients, able to cause allergies that could impair the good health and the well-being of a child all his life long.

As a final point, the cutaneous flora, a mix of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, viruses), which will become a natural barrier against infections, is progressively set up … on condition not being destroyed by too harsh washing agents or antibacterial substances!

A tip&

A guess is that children need three years for their protection mechanisms to be effective, and ten years to get the entire cutaneous protection system. This is why it is so important during this period to choose mild products that favour the fragile hydrolipidic balance and the hydration of their epidermis ; at the same time, they shall be hypoallergenic , i.e. designed to minimize the risks of allergies.

• Without any protection against the UV radiation

A baby’s skin is so lightly coloured because the epidermis , its outer layer, contains very few melanocytes, the cells that give it its pigmentation. Further, they do not work at all within the first year.

This incredibly clear skin is then very sensitive to the UV radiation, and ill-equipped to fight their action. This weakness may have dramatic effects, as repeated exposures and sunburns during childhood significantly increasing the risk of melanoma (a very dangerous kind of skin-cancer) when adult.

A tip

Better to follow the recommendations for safety of the sanitary authorities and to avoid any direct exposure to at least 3. Then, it is recommended to have only short exposures, when the sun is not at its maximum (avoid the 11AM - 4PM time slot), always using a high SPF (40 to 50+) suitable sunscreen. Do not forget the T-shirt, a cap and the sunglasses to protect the most sensitive areas from sun rays.

A fragile barrier

More fragile and more unbalanced on its surface, a baby’s skin is also more delicate in its less superficial layers. The elastin fibers (elastin is an elastic protein), and the collagen bundles are far thinner than adults’. Then, the natural "barrier" function of the skin is far less efficient.

A permeable barrier

The dermis , the thickest layer of the skin, which is finally as a protective barrier, is particularly thin in newborns.

Newborns’ skin is then highly permeable, easing the entering of any substance in contact with the skin. The absorption rate depends on the area, related to the thickness of the skin. For instance, a ratio of 0.14 on the soles, 35 for the scalp and 42 on the scrotum has been recorded!

A tip

This permeability is also a concern when dealing with the cosmetics ingredients that may enter the body far more easily. This is not a problem when they are safe and harmless. Better to avoid those suspected of a long-term toxicity, or those that help the entering of other disreputable substances, sometimes used also in baby care products.

A detrimental surface/weight ratio

This flaw in the cutaneous defense, the higher permeability of a baby’s skin, is increased by its larger relative surface. Data are that the surface/weight ratio of an adult is on average 250, while it may go up to 650 in newborns, almost three times higher! Therefore, any product applied on the baby’s skin is found in the body in far higher concentrations, three to seven times. This vastly increases the toxicological risks, when they exist. The smaller the baby, the higher the risk.

A tip

The attention given to the formula of a cosmetic product for babies is of the utmost importance. Some ingredients are unsuitable for young children, such as the terpenes, in the essential oils , the chemicals known to be endocrine disruptors , or, more simply, Alcohol , which may, if present in large quantities in a cosmetic product , be the cause of ethyl-like disorder in newborns!

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