Last week, we briefly looked at the different types of surfactants and understand their functions. This week, we’re looking deeper into baby skin and the research around cleansing baby skin.
Baby Skin Structural Vulnerabilities
In the Skin Fact series, we’ve discussed much about baby skin structural differences. Below is a recap of certain baby skin characteristics that increase its vulnerability during skin cleansing:
Higher transepidermal water loss due to thinner stratum corneum – More vulnerable to water loss during bathing and skin barrier breakdown when there’s excessive friction (from over-washing or from rubbing skin when toweling dry).
High surface-area to volume ratio – along with a thinner stratum corneum and immature drug matebolism, make baby skin more vulnerable to harmful chemicals used during bathing
Less total lipids – make it vulnerable to further reduction of skin lipids lost during washing
Cleansing Baby Skin – Research on What’s Best
From a search on Pubmed for review articles on the research for baby skin cleansing, there’s actually not much research on it. From a 2009 European round table meeting, the consensus is:
- Liquid cleansers in bathing are beneficial over water alone – Water cannot remove dirt, oil that can only be removed by oil. Prolonged washing with water dries the skin and depending on the pH of the water itself, it may be more alkaline than the natural pH of the skin.
- Liquid cleanser are preferred, rather than soap which alters the skin pH and affect the skin lipids, increase skin drying and irritation – Learn more about soap and its impact on skin pH in the skin pH series. The pH of skin can affect its skin lipids, which (a lower skin lipids) in turn causes drying, itchiness and skin inflammation.
- Liquid cleanser should be mild, non-irritating, non-stinging (especially to the eyes as babies may not be able to blink fast enough) and non-pH altering, and contains moisturizing function
For cleansing of baby’s skin, I’ve found two other articles that offer recommendation on what’s best for baby skin.
Apart from the three points above, additional points are:
4. Avoid Anionic Surfactants, these are those that cleanse very well but most irritating to skin, an easy way to identify them is to look out for those chemicals ending with Sulfates.
5. Choose those with large head groups and have the ability to form larger micelles. Surfactants organize into groups of molecules called micelles and generally the larger these micelles are, the less irritating the surfactant is. This is related to larger micelles being less able to penetrate the outer layer of skin (stratum corneum).
6. No preservatives is not best as bacterial growth can happen in such products
7. No scent does not mean no fragrance (potential irritant) is used, it can be one fragrance masking that of another.
Why Baby Skin needs Cleansing
Just like last week we asked the question ‘Why not just use water to clean?‘ (because 40% of dirt, oil can only be removed by oil), we also have to understand why baby skin needs cleansing. Baby skin has saliva, nasal secretions, urine, feces, germs and dirt which can potentially irritate the skin when left on the skin. It is also possible that both skin allergy and the body (ie food allergy) can develop from foods being left on the skin for too long. It is therefore important to clean baby skin. However, baby skin, given its structural vulnerabilities, should not be over-washed and to avoid using baby wipes on face or baby wipes that are non-hypoallergenic, especially those containing fragrance and MI.
Next week, I’d (make a brave) attempt to look into how surfactants affect skin and in particular, impact on eczema skin. It’s a very ‘chemical’ topic and not easy, so appreciate if there’s feedback to improve on the blog post, and share your best cleanser!
- Bathing and cleansing in newborns from day 1 to first year of life: recommendations from a European round table meeting
- The Infant Skin Barrier: Can We Preserve, Protect, and Enhance the Barrier?
- Update on Newborn Bathing (Medscape)