Why a Baby’s Skin is Different From Adult Skin

Why a Baby’s Skin is Different From Adult Skin

A baby's skin is only one third the thickness of an adult's skin. Here's why it's important to know that to care for both can and should be totally different.

Babies are precious and gentle, and as parents you want to protect and care for them in all the right ways. You want to make sure that their skin stays super soft and retains that “new baby smell” for as long as possible.

So how do we make sure that our little ones’ skin stays healthy, clean and moisturized?

Lorena Telofski, CMPP, Associate Director, Global Scientific Engagement, Research & Development, Johnson & Johnson Consumer, Inc. addresses some common questions and concerns related to baby skincare. She tells us why taking care of a baby’s skin differs from adult skin.

Why does a baby’s skin require special care and how is it different from adult skin?

Did you know that a baby’s skin loses water twice or more as fast as adult skin?

Ms. Telofski tells us that, “A baby’s skin is uniquely different and still developing which can make it more vulnerable to irritants and environmental changes.  The upper layer of the skin can be 30% thinner than adult skin and it can lose water twice as fast.   Our studies show that it is also often dry, when it may not seem so.

“These differences are some of the reasons why you should only use products formulated specifically for newborn and baby skin.  Baby’s skin is mildly acidic, with a pH of about 5.5, which helps the skin protect itself.  “So harsh cleansers, which can disrupt the normal pH, are not appropriate.

 “Additionally, moisturisers specially formulated for baby’s unique skin needs, can help protect the skin from dryness.”

Baby skin care: Does skincare impact the infant immune system?

“Because the skin is the largest organ of the body, scientists are interested to learn about what is happening on the skin and understanding the role of the skin microbiome with respect to both skin, and overall, health.

“While we know that the gut microbiome is important for immunity and health, preliminary research suggests that the skin microbiome may have an effect on chronic disease and overall immune health.

“In fact, there is a lot of focus right now on understanding the infant  skin microbiome. From the research, including that from our own scientists, we know that the infant skin microbiome also continues to develop after birth,” reveals Ms. Telofski.

“The skin microbiome is made up of colonies of microorganisms, many of which are bacteria. This microbiome helps the skin barrier protect itself from pathogens, or organisms which can cause disease, and infection.  

“At first, a baby’s skin microbiome is relatively uniform with a limited number of species present. Over time, they pick up a more diverse group of microorganisms from their parents, caregivers, and the environment. Properly establishing a healthy skin microbiome helps protect infants from harmful, infectious microorganisms.

“Hence another reason to make sure that the products we select are formulated specially for baby’s uniquely different skin, including being gentle enough to not disrupt the developing skin microbiome.”

So, how can we maintain a healthy skin microbiome in babies?

The infant skin microbiome is still developing and daily care routines using products, such as cleansers, that are not designed to be gentle to a baby’s skin barrier may impact the microbiome itself.

According to Ms. Telofski, “In order to help maintain a healthy skin microbiome in babies we should:

  • Use products, like cleansers and moisturizers, that are specially formulated for baby’s uniquely different and still developing skin, including its skin microbiome
  • Ensure that the products we use on baby’s skin are pH-appropriate. Harsh products with pH either too high or too low, can change the environment which a healthy skin microbiome needs to thrive. Additionally, some skin conditions, like Eczema, are associated with high skin pH of 6.5, 7.0 and sometimes even higher.

“Using products that might drive skin pH to unhealthy levels would be a concern of ours. So, using products that support and maintain baby’s normal, mildly acidic skin pH (about pH 5.5), can help support healthy skin.”

Is fragrance safe for a newborn’s skin?

Studies have found that newborns have a keen sense of smell. Scent helps mothers and babies bond. Baby care routines such, as bath and massage, can support bonding and promote multi-sensorial experiences which provide benefits to babies and their parents.

“Scent is strongly associated with emotions and memory. As adults you may have experienced this when you smell something today, that brings on a strong memory of the past.  That’s because scent is closely linked with the part of the brain that is involved with emotions. And the same can be true of fragrance scents,” said Ms. Telofski.

“However, not all fragrances are created equal. The types of problems generally observed with fragranced products are skin allergies and skin irritation which can sometimes happen with the skin has been exposed to fragrance allergens.

“And although some parents may believe that natural fragrances are always safer, scientifically this is not true. Natural fragrances from essential oils, for example, can often contain skin allergens that are of concern to dermatologists.

“The key then, is to buy skincare products for babies with fragrances that adhere to international standards on fragrance. At Johnson’s®, our new baby formulations are free of known fragrance allergens, which can provide extra comfort to parents who want to use a scented, or fragranced, product for their baby.

Why a Baby’s Skin is Different From Adult Skin

What are the benefits of simple acts like touching and massaging a baby?

“The first three years of life are a critical period of brain development. By the age of three, about 85% of the brain is developed. Neural connections, which allow babies to develop and learn to do things like walk, talk, think, and remember, are developing at an incredible rate.  And these connections are formed from experiences and interaction,” Ms. Telofski tells us.

“Babies experience the world through their senses. Research shows the importance of touch, engaging a baby’s multiple senses and parent-baby engagement, for baby development.

So, the time you spend engaging your baby’s senses during everyday care routines, like bathing and moisturizing, is actually helping to support your baby’s growth and development.

“A massage can provide emotional and physiological benefits for your growing baby. Massage can help baby calm and relax, even while supporting the bond and the feeling of closeness between a parent and baby.

“Your voice as a parent, familiar routines with familiar scents, along with other factors can be associated with comfort for your child.  Your gentle touch and the smell of the lotion you smooth on your baby’s skin, can be part of your little one’s routine, nurturing your bond and supporting happy, healthy development for your baby.

“Engaging the senses, especially more than one sense at a time, can play a significant role in helping babies learn and develop, supporting baby’s cognitive, emotional, social, and physical development. So experiences DO matter!” shares Ms. Telofski.

What are the best ways to clean a newborn baby’s skin?

“Except in certain circumstances, the recommended timing of baby’s first bath is 6 to 24 hours after birth and healthcare guidelines caution to ensure that baby’s cardiorespiratory and temperature have stabilised. It is important to note that the tradition of giving baths can vary across cultures, with some delaying first bath much longer.

“For baby’s first bath, guidelines recommend using a mild cleanser that is designed for newborns, to cleanse unwanted fluids, such as blood or meconium, while ensuring not to vigorously scrub allowing residual vernix to remain on the skin,” says Ms. Telofski.

“Although sponge baths are often recommended for baby’s first bath, more recent research supports newborns being bathed with immersion tub bathing or swaddled-immersion bathing. The swaddle-immersion method has been shown to promote a quiet, clam newborn state and can help to maintain the newborn’s body  temperature as only one part of the swaddle (example – cotton cloth or towel) is removed or “opened” at a time for cleansing, which limits exposure of the newborn to the environment.

“Research shows that a mild baby cleanser is more effective than water alone at cleansing things like urine, feces and other oily substances on the skin. And remember that not all water is created equal. Much of the world’s water is “hard water” which can have a drying effect on the skin and which has been associated with eczema,” says Ms. Telofski. 

What would a proper skincare routine for baby be?

Ms. Telofski advised to use a mild cleanser that is specially formulated for baby’s unique and still developing skin and skin microbiome. This can be followed by a moisturizer that is similarly formulated for baby’s skin. And, of course, each baby product used should be backed by date to support its safe use.

“Cleansing with a mild cleanser, specially formulated for baby, can start with baby’s first bath after birth and expert recommendations suggest bathing newborns every few days, based on individual needs, family beliefs and culture. Of course, the diaper area, facial area and skin folds should be kept clean and dry always, between baths.

“Remember that baby’s skin is still developing and it can lose moisture faster. Use of an emollient, such as a lotion, has been proven effective in helping prevent dryness and in maintaining the integrity of the skin barrier. Some studies are also showing the important role that appropriately formulated emollients can have in reducing conditions of atopic dermatitis. A damaged skin barrier can allow easier penetration of environmental allergens, and even bacteria, resulting in irritated skin and in some cases, infection.

“So we can safely say that emollients and moisturization of the skin are good on a daily basis from birth. Dry skin allows for easier penetration of bacteria and allergens.”

Why a Baby’s Skin is Different From Adult Skin

Baby skin care: What should parents really look out for when buying products?

According to Ms. Telofski, “Start by learning about the products you want to use for your baby. Ask to see the data or support behind the statements that a company is making about its products for babies. It’s not enough to just listen to product claims, but “dig deeper” to understand the evidence and science behind these claims.  

“Asking about the product pH is also a good idea and really take the time to understand the evidence behind scent and fragrances. Remember that natural doesn’t automatically mean “safe” or “safer”, in fact it can be the opposite. Essential oils can be irritating and or contain allergens, for example. And just because you can cook with it, doesn’t mean it’s best for baby’s skin. Olive oil is a good example of that, as research shows it can damage the integrity of the skin barrier if used as an emollient on the skin.

“It is getting harder to sort myth from fact these days for sure. But doing your homework to learn the evidence and science behind the ingredients contained in your baby’s products, how products are formulated specially for baby’s developing skin, and asking for the support behind the safety of your baby’s products, are great starting points.

“And I would like to leave mums and dads with one more thought. When you care for your baby’s skin you not only help to keep it healthy and clean, but routines like bathing and massage provide daily opportunities to provide your baby with your touch, your comfort, your time and your love. What could be more important?”

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