Our body’s first line of defence to the environment is the SKIN.
Skin consists of three main layers: the epidermis (the outer layer), the dermis, and the subcutaneous layer. Histologically a full-term infant’s skin has all five epidermal skin layers intact, same as adult skin, including the stratum basale, stratum spinosum, stratum granulosum, stratum lucidum and stratum corneum. The behaviour of the infant skin differsfrom adult skin though since the skin cells, structures and composition are not yet fully developed at birth and functional maturity only develops during the first year of life.
The function of the skin is mainly to regulate body temperature, serve as our protective barrier to external factors such as the sun, toxins, bacteria and mechanical damage, and it also helps to retain water. For the first 2 years of an infant’s life the stratum corneum is still very thin which results in the baby skin being more fragile, sensitive, permeable, dryer and more susceptible to infections. This is the reason why baby skin should be cared for with skin care products developed especially for baby.
Fragile: Infant skin is 30% thinner than adult skin, so it is more prone to injury and damage. On the flip side, baby skin has an increased healing and recovery ability due the rate at which skin cells grow and mutate compared to adult skin. It does not mean wounds should be neglected, but that it would most probably not leave a scar, depending on the severity of the injury. It is recommended to treat damaged skin with a sensible skincare product that is specifically formulated to calm and support the skin’s natural recovery ability and reduce inflammation.
Sensitive: For newborn skin to suffer from a rash, baby acne (milia), dryness or red blotches is normal and no reason for concern. Some infants are more sensitive than others but infant skin in general is more sensitive than adult skin. Skin sensitivity could be caused or aggravated by a number of internal or external factors. Parents can manage external factors which include temperature changes, detergents, harsh water, harmful chemicals, the sun and wet diapers. Change diapers frequently and choose a skincare brand that you trust and are free from irritants, parabens, synthetic perfumes, colourants and soap.
Permeable: The impaired barrier function of the baby skin could allow topical agents to penetrate the skin easily and cause skin sensitivity or a reaction. Always be conscious of the fact that what you apply to your little one’s skin can seep into the deeper layer of the skin so you have to be vigilant about the safety of the products you apply to your child’s skin. Make sure you study the list of ingredients on the skincare products you choose to use for your family.
Dry: There is no reason to get alarmed with baby skin that is very dry and flaky, especially during the first 3 months of life. At birth baby’s sebum secretion is very high which could cause tiny white “pimples”, but thereafter it decreases. The low levels of sebum in the epidermis and the reduced water holding capacity of the immature skin cells, result in dry skin. This will change overtime and the baby's skin will become even more hydrated and supple than adult skin. Make sure you are using a safe, effective and natural skin moisturiser to relieve dry, uncomfortable skin.
Infections: The reason why babies are more vulnerable to infections is that besides the already lowered immune system of a baby, their skin (as part of the immune system) is not yet fully prepared to offer optimal protection. They are more susceptible to chemical irritants and bacteria compared to adults, due to their impaired barrier function. We need to ensure the baby's environment is hygienic and clean to prevent any unwanted germs causing skin irritation, rashes and infections.
This offers a few reasons why we should consider the skincare choices we make for our little ones carefully. You have to be comfortable with your brand of choice and it is always easier if they share your values. Use a brand that you can really trust and that is kind to skin and the environment.