Discovering an angry red rash on your baby’s bottom can be alarming, but you're definitely not alone. With diapers setting the stage for irritation, almost all babies are bound to experience a bout of diaper rash at some point. Thankfully, most rashes are easy to treat and can even be prevented by using a good diaper rash cream. While diaper rash cream is one item every parent needs in their babycare bag of tricks, choosing the right one isn’t always easy.
To help you get on top of the slippery slope of creams, pastes, and ointments, we've rounded up five of the very best. Here at BestReviews, we never accept free manufacturer samples, so you can rest assured knowing that our opinions and insights are ours alone.
Read our in-depth shopping guide to find out everything you ever wanted to know about diaper rashes and the creams that keep them in check. Once you're done, choose from our favorite picks to purchasethe best option for your baby.
Approximately 75% of babies develop a diaper rash every six months. When used correctly, a diaper rash cream can help minimize rashes and may even prevent them entirely.
What causes diaper rash?
Babies have naturally delicate skin, and diaper rash can occur for several reasons. Understanding why and when these rashes happen can help you manage and prevent breakouts. Here are some common causes of diaper rash.
Wet or Soiled Diapers: Prolonged exposure to moisture breaks down the skin’s protective barrier, leaving it vulnerable to irritation. Adding stool to the mix spells double trouble, as digestive enzymes cause urine to release skin-damaging ammonia.
Chafing and Rubbing: Repetitive rubbing caused by ill-fitting clothing or diapers can cause irritation over time.
Sensitivities and Allergies: Babies with sensitive skin or allergies frequently develop a rash when introduced to a new skincare or diapering product. If you suspect that your little one has sensitive skin, pay careful attention to skin changes when introducing new wipes, disposable diapers, lotions, soaps, powders, oils, etc. Fragrance, chemicals, and preservatives are all common culprits.
New Foods: Unfamiliar foods can affect the texture and composition of stool. In particular, acidic foods like tomato and citrus are known to cause irritation. However, if your little one has a food allergy, she can have a reaction to other foods as well.
Yeast and Bacterial Infections: Yeast and bacteria thrive in warm, moist conditions. Diapers provide the ideal environment for these infections to take hold. These rashes often appear within skin creases and folds and may require a doctor-prescribed antifungal or antibacterial cream.
Antibiotics: Antibiotics kill all bacteria, including the kind that regulate yeast. This allows yeast to multiply and spread unhindered. Most babies taking a course of antibiotics also experience diarrhea, which often results in irritation and diaper rash.
Although most diaper rashes can be attributed to one or more of the above-mentioned causes, severe cases or those that just won't clear up should be treated by a medical practitioner.
How diaper rash creams work
Diaper rash creams form a protective barrier between your baby’s skin and any potential irritants. Although individual formulations vary from cream to cream, most achieve this through the inclusion of zinc oxide and/or petrolatum. Zinc oxide concentrations generally range between 10% and 40%, with higher levels resulting in a thicker consistency and improved moisture protection. The best diaper rash creams are often enriched with ingredients like aloe vera, calendula, beeswax, and shea butter to soothe and nourish irritated skin.
Types of diaper rash creams
The term “diaper rash cream” is broadly used to describe any soothing salve that is applied to a baby's bottom. However, not all diaper rash treatments are creams, and different consistencies serve different purposes.
These tend to be thinner and easier to spread. Creams provide soothing protection, but because they're formulated with a higher ratio of water to oil, creams don’t typically form a long-lasting barrier between irritants and your baby’s bottom.
Thinner consistency is easy to apply.
Most are breathable and don’t leave behind much of a lingering residue.
Cream is a good option for everyday preventive use and mild irritation.
These typically don’t provide a protective barrier against moisture and other irritants.
Most creams rub off easily, leaving damaged skin vulnerable.
"Applying a layer of petroleum jelly over diaper rash cream will keep it from sticking to your baby’s diaper."
Ointments contain more oil and usually have occlusive ingredients, such as petrolatum, that form a protective layer over vulnerable skin. Ointments have a thicker consistency than creams, but most spread quite well, thanks to an oily base.
Ointment creates a barrier to protect damaged skin from excessive moisture, bacteria, and other irritants.
Oil base prevents water loss to keep skin from becoming dry and cracked.(Video) Dr V Rating Retinols...shocking one! Which do you use? #doctorv #skincare #retinol
Thicker formulation doesn’t rub off easily.
Ointment works well for mild to moderate rashes, as well as rash prevention.
These formulas can leave a film that’s difficult to wash off.
Ointment may stick to and stain cloth diapers.
"A dime-sized dollop of diaper rash cream spread evenly over the buttocks and thighs is just the right amount for most babies. "
When your baby needs heavy-duty care and protection, a diaper rash paste is the way to go. Pastes are formulated to create an impenetrable fortress of nourishing and protective ingredients to protect severely damaged skin. Some are only available by prescription.
The extra-thick consistency offers maximum protection that won’t budge.
Paste is suitable for moderate to severe diaper rashes.
Some pastes are medicated for extra efficacy.
Thick paste can be difficult to spread.
Paste can be very difficult to remove.(Video) Apply Diaper Rash Cream
This formulation isn’t suitable for use with cloth diapers.
Pastes may require a prescription.
Diaper rash cream factors to consider
Prevention vs. cure
Lightweight, breathable creams work well as a preventive measure and can provide just the right level of protection to keep normal skin supple and healthy. However, bouts of diarrhea, infrequent diaper changes, and skin sensitivities increase the risk of your baby developing a diaper rash. In cases like these, it’s wiser to use a thicker cream that offers a stronger barrier against moisture and other irritants.
If your little one already has a diaper rash, immediate pain relief is likely to be your number one priority. An ointment or paste with soothing ingredients like aloe vera or calendula offers both protection and comfort.
"If you’re taking antibiotics while breastfeeding and notice a rash developing in your baby's diaper area, it could be a yeast infection. "
Many diaper rash creams contain added ingredients to further combat irritation, nourish depleted skin, and promote faster healing. Some beneficial additives to be on the lookout for include the following.
Aloe: Boasts natural anti-inflammatory properties with cooling action that reduces burning and stinging.
Calendula: Soothes pain and inflammation.
Beeswax: Contains natural antibacterial properties and speeds recovery.
Shea Butter: Offers natural hydration and is high in vitamin E.
Coconut Oil: Provides nourishing antibacterial action.
Vitamin B5: Can hydrate, soothe, and stimulate healing.
Vitamin E: Supports new cell growth and promotes skin regeneration.
"Fragrance and alcohol are known irritants and should be avoided at all costs if your baby has a diaper rash. "
Cloth vs. disposable diapers
Since disposable diapers are destined for the trash can, there’s no need to worry about how a diaper rash cream will affect them. Cloth diapers, on the other hand, are susceptible to stains, and certain barrier ingredients can clog fibers and severely impair absorption. We strongly advise using a liner to prevent irreversible damage to cloth diapers. If this isn’t an option, you might need to forgo traditional diaper rash creams containing zinc oxide or petrolatum and choose a lightweight organic variety instead.
Did you know?
Sometimes chemicals in disposable diapers can cause irritation. Switching to another brand can be helpful if your baby has an unexplained diaper rash.
Diaper rash cream prices
Given the fact that dealing with diaper rash is part and parcel of having a baby, it’s good to know that most diaper rash creams are reasonably priced. On average, you can expect to pay between $4 and $20.
A four-ounce tube costs between $4 and $10.
All-natural organic formulations tend to be more expensive. A four-ounce tube costs between $10 and $15.
A 16-ounce tub costs between $10 and $20.
When it's time for a diaper change, rinsing your baby's bottom under the faucet will cause less discomfort that using wet wipes.
Q. How often should I apply diaper rash cream?
A. Using a diaper rash cream on a daily basis will ensure that your baby’s skin is protected at all times. Whether used as a preventive measure or to treat existing rashes, it’s best to re-apply at every diaper change. However, if your baby’s skin isn’t prone to irritation or you’re unable to apply diaper rash cream throughout the day, applying a generous layer at night may be sufficient.
Q. Do I need to completely wipe off previous applications for each diaper change?
A. Since diaper rash creams are designed to repel moisture, they can be difficult to wipe off. Vigorous rubbing will only irritate vulnerable skin further, and removing all traces of diaper rash cream is unnecessary. When changing your baby, gently clean the area, taking care to remove all excrement. Dab away excess moisture and allow skin to air dry before applying another layer of diaper rash cream.
Q. What can I do if the diaper rash cream doesn't work?
A. If your baby has a persistent rash and creams don’t seem to work, you may be dealing with a fungal or bacterial infection. Signs of infection typically include fever, blisters, and pus. A doctor will be able to determine the nature of the rash and prescribe a suitable treatment. It’s important to get a proper diagnosis from a medical professional. Over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams and topical antibiotics may contain ingredients that are harmful to babies and should never be used without your doctor’s approval.