What Causes Diaper Rash and How to Prevent It

Diaper rash, otherwise known as nappy rash or diaper dermatitis, is a skin irritation that appears on the diaper-covered area of the skin and causes it to become sore, red and/or scaly. It can affect anyone who’s wearing a diaper for any reason, from newborns, babies, and toddlers, to adults and seniors. Depending on the cause and whether or not it gets proper treatment, the condition can range anywhere between mild and severe.

For obvious reasons, diaper rash mostly affects babies, but what exactly is the cause?

How can it be prevented? 

Don’t worry, if your baby has a diaper rash it doesn’t automatically mean that it’s your fault, so take a look at the causes and how you can prevent it in the future. 

If you’re interested in the cures and treatments of this skin irritation, read our piece on the Best Diaper Rash Treatments and Home Remedies

What Causes Diaper Rash?

There are several causes for diaper rash, so let’s mention the most common ones.

Exposure to Moisture & Heat 

Diaper rashes love and thrive in warm and moist places, and what’s warmer than a baby’s bottom? Especially if the baby is overdressed or it’s very hot where he or she is. 

After all, baby diapers are very tight so that the urine doesn’t leak, and as a consequence, little to no air reaches that area. This is why the skin under the diaper warms up easily and becomes moister, so keep this in mind. 

Long exposure to urine or stool also creates a wet and warm environment that’s perfect for rashes. What’s more, when a baby is teething, for unknown reasons there’s a higher chance of it having diarrhea. Allegedly, the extra saliva produced at this time relaxes the bowels so that’s one possible explanation. But whatever the reason, you should know that the enzymes found in stool irritate the thick and sensitive baby skin, as well as the ammonia that’s released by urine.

Diaper Friction

Diaper friction is another common cause of diaper rash since the constant rubbing against the soft and sensitive baby skin can lead to irritation. 

Baby skin is very thin and delicate, but regular friction and rubbing caused by diapers weaken the protective layer of the skin. The protective layer is especially vulnerable when moist or wet, so diaper rash caused by diaper friction is bound to happen at some point.

Yeast Infection

Also a very common cause for diaper rashes, yeast infections, otherwise known as Candida albicans, thrive in moist and warm areas. We all have a small amount of yeast in our bodies, but everything is well until the fungus finds a wet and warm place where it can grow and become harmful. This is why baby diaper areas are an ideal target. 

Yeast infection is also a common occurrence if your baby takes antibiotics, or if you take antibiotics while breastfeeding. This happens because antibiotics get rid of the good bacteria which fight yeast, so once the good bacteria are gone yeast can spread and thrive, so be careful with antibiotics.

Food Sensitivities & Allergies

Eating certain foods your baby is sensitive or allergic to can also be the cause of a diaper rash, especially acidic foods. If your baby is allergic to tomatoes, for example, and you eat them before breastfeeding, your baby will still get the allergy, so this is another thing you need to be aware of.

Baby Skin Care Products

Since baby skin is very delicate and sensitive, when it comes in contact with new skin care products it can easily become irritated. What’s more, if the cream, lotion, shampoo or other skin care product contains many chemicals, perfume, colors, or other irritants, the irritation can lead to a diaper rash,

Also, if you’re using cloth diapers, your baby can be sensitive to the detergent or fabric softener you use, especially if the diaper is not washed properly and there’s a tiny amount of detergent left.

Certain fabrics can also be the cause for redness and irritation, but this is less common.

Infrequent Diaper Changes

The longer the exposure to urine or stool, the higher the chances of your baby developing diaper rash. 

This is the only time when the diaper rash is completely your fault since your baby cannot change his or her own diaper, right?

As we said before, both feces and urine irritate the delicate baby skin, so if your baby has diarrhea, for example, diaper changes need to be even more regular.

How to Prevent Diaper Rash?

There are many ways in which you can prevent diaper rash, however, keep in mind that sometimes diaper rashes are simply inevitable.

When changing the diapers, gently clean your baby’s diaper area with warm water. Then place your baby on a clean and dry towel and let his or her bottom dry completely before putting on another diaper. 
Since the skin cannot properly breathe when wrapped in a diaper, the bottom quickly becomes warm and moist. Simply let your baby’s skin take some time off and simply be dry for a while.
Many lotions, creams, shampoos, and other baby skin care products have the “Natural” label on the package but when you take a look at the ingredients there are countless chemicals among other harmful components. This is why you should always make sure that the products you put on your baby are with organic and natural ingredients, without any parabens, artificial fragrances, talc, and so on.
Whether you’re applying a lotion or a shampoo, gently pat on your baby’s skin and don’t put much pressure when rubbing.
Both diaper creams and powders create a protective barrier between the gentle baby skin and the diaper, so make this a habit once you find the perfect cream or powder for your baby’s skin.
Since there are many diaper brands on the market, make sure to choose those that don’t have plastic since plastic traps moisture and heat which creates the perfect conditions for a diaper rash. Also, choose the correct size so the diapers don’t stop the airflow from circulating if too tight.  Diapers that are super-absorbent can make your life easier so you don’t have to change them too often, but remember, urine and wetness are the primary causes for diaper rash, so if less absorbent diapers are more affordable then switch to those and change them regularly.

And Remember, Regular Diaper Change and Air Exposure!

Regular diaper change and air exposure are the main things you must do in order to prevent a diaper rash, among the other prevention methods we mentioned. That being said, diaper rashes are sometimes inevitable, so don’t blame yourself if this happens. Almost every baby or toddler had it at one point or another, even adults and seniors who have to use diapers.