Every baby gets a diaper rash at some point during their infant hood, and some with sensitive skin may get them more than others – but there are hundreds of diaper creams on the market made with a range of chemical to more natural ingredients that can bring relief to your little one.
When you see that bright red rash on your baby’s bottom and reach for your choice of tube or tub, you might not know that there are tips, tricks, and no-nos for applying diaper cream to your baby’s skin.
Do you use your fingers or invest in a plastic wand or brush? Do you use diaper cream on every rash or just certain ones? And how do you apply diaper cream on a boy versus a girl?
This article will answer all these questions, even ones that might not have crossed your mind in the first place, so you can be ready the next time you open your baby’s diaper and see red.
How to Apply Diaper Cream – The Right Way
That title is a bit of a trick, as there isn’t one right way to apply diaper cream – but there are some best practices for making sure you’re doing it safely and effectively.
The rest is all about personal preferences, and there are some differences that you should know about between applying diaper cream to a boy versus applying it to a girl.
1) Selecting Your Diaper Cream
Choose your diaper cream based on what is most important to you.
Do you want it to be super effective? Highly medicinal? Does your baby get diaper rashes regularly or infrequently? Do you prefer natural or organic ingredients? Does your baby have any allergies? Do you want to order it online or have it available at your nearest convenience store?
Diaper creams work as a barrier against moisture and bacteria. The active ingredient in most diaper creams is zinc oxide, though others might include lanolin, calendula, and aloe vera – all of which are natural, safe, and effective to use on your baby’s skin.
Avoid diaper rash creams with heavy, fake fragrances, and be wary of using essential oils.
If you use essential oils, make sure you do your research on which oils are safe for your baby and how to dilute them properly.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “Regarding the use of essential oils, especially lavender and tea tree oil, these 2 essential oils have been associated with adverse endocrine effects, especial in male infants.
Although some infant lotions and baby washes contain lavender, I have not been recommending these products based on recent research.
So, a word of caution about lavender and tea tree oil should be expressed.”
2) Applying Diaper Cream To A Baby Girl
The main thing to be aware of when putting diaper cream on a baby girl is that nothing should go inside of her vaginal opening.
Diaper Cream is a product that is meant to be applied externally, meaning everything you can see on the surface.
After cleaning your baby girl’s bottom and vulva (with a front to back wiping motion, to prevent infection), squeeze a dime-sized amount of cream onto your finger, if using a tube, or scoop a dime-sized glob from a jar of salve (you can use your finger or a special plastic wand for this).
With gentle, firm strokes, spread the cream over any bright red areas you find.
You can apply the cream on the outer part of your baby girl’s vulva, closest to her thighs, and in the crevice or folds of her thighs, but avoid the area between the labia where it’s more sensitive to avoid getting it inside her vaginal canal.
Getting diaper rash cream in your baby’s inner labia could cause a yeast infection, UTI or other genital discomfort and problems.
Be sure to cover her bum cheeks as well. It’s okay to apply the cream in between the bum cheeks and around the anus, as long as you don’t get any inside and you’re gentle with your application.
Your baby may cry during this process, as touching these areas can hurt, so do your best to be quick and cover as much area as you can without too much struggle.
If your baby’s diaper rash is severe and her skin is inflamed on her vulva, just wipe clean and let her skin air dry.
You can set her on a clean, dry towel with a bare bottom to give her skin some time diaper-free.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “There is a technique that I recommend when infants are getting frequent rashes, especially during hot summer months when they sweat and increase the moisture within the diaper.
I suggest drying the perineum with a hand-held blowdryer on the COOL setting. This rapidly dries the area.
I do, however, emphasize the COOL setting and to test the air with a hand before using it on an infant.”
3) Applying Diaper Cream To A Boy
We all know they have different parts, so it makes sense that there might be a slightly different method of applying diaper cream to a baby boy.
The first thing to consider is whether baby is intact or circumcised.
If intact, NEVER retract the foreskin. Simply clean it like you would a finger and move on.
If your baby is circumcised, you wipe it the same way and avoid getting cream too close to the urethral opening at the top.
Boys are known for peeing during diaper changes. The longer the diaper is off, the more likely it is you’ll get sprayed and have a mess to clean up.
Consider placing a wipe over your baby boy’s penis while you apply the diaper cream. That way, if he urinates, it won’t make as large of a mess.
Anywhere there is red, inflamed skin, it’s safe to apply diaper cream. Between the thighs, on the scrotum, and on the shaft of the penis.
Just as with girls, use a clean finger or diaper cream application stick and apply a dime-sized amount to the surface of the rash with firm strokes. Be gentle and quick to avoid causing your baby too much additional pain.
Similar to girls, you can apply diaper cream in between your baby boy’s bum cheeks and around his anus as needed.
Dealing With Roly-Poly Babies
Some babies have more fat rolls than others.
These rolls of skin are adorable but can be troublesome when it comes to diaper rashes.
Be sure to wipe them out completely to remove everything during each diaper change, and if they’re red and angry, apply diaper cream beneath the crevices with a clean, dry finger.
Be sure to clean these areas out during each diaper change and at bath time for the comfort of your little one.
Also, remember to always wash your hands with warm soap and water after a diaper change!
When to Apply Diaper Cream
You want to apply diaper cream at each diaper change when your baby has a diaper rash.
A diaper rash is bright red spots or streaks that can be in a small area or spread over a larger area in your baby’s diaper region.
This area includes the buttocks, anus, in between the thighs, the penis and scrotum for a boy baby, and the labia and vulva for a girl baby.
This rash is called a “diaper rash” because it occurs in the area covered by a diaper and because the atmosphere created by the diaper is a perfect recipe for the rash to develop.
It’s dark, often wet, and frequently contains bacteria.
When your baby is allowed to sit for too long in a wet or dirty diaper, or when your baby is sick (especially with diarrhea), their bottom will become inflamed and sore.
Other things can also cause diaper rash, such as a yeast infection.
If your baby gets regular rashes, you may need to apply diaper cream preventatively at each diaper change, regardless of whether or not they have a rash at the time. This will create a barrier to protect your baby’s skin.
With that being said, try to determine the cause of your their regular diaper rash.
Rule out your laundry detergent and diaper brand as culprits for causing your baby’s sore bottom first; some babies are more sensitive to what comes in contact with their skin, and you may need to switch to a less chemical, or more organic option.
Consider whether your baby might be eating something that they are allergic to, such as dairy products, gluten, or highly acidic foods.
If there’s another allergy or situation causing the rash, diaper creams won’t be very effective, and may only clear up the problem for a short while before it returns with a vengeance.
Do this before spending a lot of money on diaper creams that don’t end up solving the true problem; your baby will thank you!
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “Here is a good link from the AAP about
diaper rashes and how to manage them.”
When Not To Apply Diaper Cream
1) Broken Skin
Avoid applying ANY diaper cream, natural ingredients or not, on broken or bleeding skin.
This can make the wound sting and cause your baby pain as well as increase the risk of infection.
It is better in this situation to lay your baby on a clean towel with a bare bottom to help the area dry out and heal.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “It is actually very common for more severe, non-fungal diaper rashes to be associated with broken/bleeding skin.
In these cases, I usually recommend Triple Paste because it tends to soothe the pain of such rashes while healing the skin.”
2) Yeast Infection
About 15% of diaper rashes in babies are caused by yeast infection.
This kind of rash won’t be helped by your typical diaper rash creams and could get worse if they are used.
If your baby has a yeast infection, check with their pediatrician about antifungal treatment, and probiotics your baby can take to restore the balance of healthy bacteria in their system.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “I think it is also important to emphasize that, while using a prescribed anti-fungal cream, other diaper creams should be avoided.
I have had quite a few parents who, while using an anti-fungal cream one to four times a day, apply their usual barrier cream for the other diaper changes throughout the day.
Using anything other than the prescribed cream prolongs the rash and reduces the effectiveness of the anti-fungal cream.
I recommend just drying the diaper area well during the diaper changes where the medication is not applied.”
While applying diaper cream to your baby’s bottom, be careful not to contaminate the cream by touching their bottom, then touching the diaper cream container opening.
This can cause bacteria to thrive and, especially if your baby is sick, can perpetuate bacterial infections by passing it to another child in your household that you may use the same tube of cream with.
In fact, it’s better to have a separate container for each child in diapers for best hygiene practice.
When To Use Baby Powder Instead
Some diaper rashes don’t respond well to wet, heavy diaper creams, and may need a drier substance like baby powder to clear up.
Avoid ALL commercial baby powders, as these can be harmful to your baby.
Opt for a more natural option instead, like this homemade baby powder that uses natural bentonite clay powder for a dry, soothing effect on the worst rashes.
Bentonite clay was found to heal diaper rashes seven times faster than a calendula-based cream, per this study.
Do not use any type of baby powder on a baby younger than 3 months old, as they can inhale the fine particles and experience health problems as a result.
Considerations For Cloth Diapering Parents
Do you use cloth diapers for your baby?
Babies in cloth diapers can sometimes get rashes more often if diapers aren’t cleaned correctly.
Most typical laundry detergents cause buildup on clothes, and cloth diapers are no exception.
If your baby has had a yeast infection, it can be especially tricky to get rid of in cloth. Follow this cleaning regimen to be certain you take care of it and prevent reinfection.
You also need to check your diaper cream ingredient list for petroleum, as it builds up on the surface of your diapers and can render them useless.
Here’s a list of cloth-diaper-safe creams. The bonus is that many of the creams on this list are natural and organic and all-around better choice for your baby!
Wrapping It Up
Now you’re armed with all the knowledge you need to fight those angry, red diaper rashes and give your sweet baby relief once more.
Whether you use disposable diapers or cloth, organic creams or something over-the-counter, you’re making fantastic choices to take care of your little bundle of joy.
Pat yourself on the back and pour a cup of your favorite beverage while the baby naps. You deserve it!