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New parents are often surprised to find the skin of their newborn isn't "soft as a baby's butt", but rather spotted with patches of dry skin from the transition from a watery world to a world of air and chemicals. These dry patches are normal, and usually slough off on their own within a few weeks. Sometimes, however, the dry skin persists and increases. There are many causes for this, the most predominant of which is sensitive skin. Sensitive skin is easily irritated by chemicals, soaps, and perfumes, resulting in dry, itchy, flaky, often reddened areas of skin. Use the following suggestions to heal dry skin, and prevent it from recurring.

If the irritation occurs in areas that are often in contact with fabrics, such as the abdomen and legs, investigate laundering methods. Switch to a perfume free detergent, try different fabric softeners or eliminate softeners. Treat baby's clothing and bedding to an extra rinse to remove excess solvents.

If the irritation occurs in other areas, such as baby's face, as well as other areas of the body, the method of bathing could be the culprit. Switch to a mild, perfume free soap, use cooler bath water, and make sure to moisturize the skin while still damp. A common misconception about lotions is that they can rehydrate skin. Lotions work by sealing in moisture that is already present. If the skin is dry when lotion is applied, it will prevent the skin from becoming drier, but it won't add moisture. Again, a perfume free product designed for sensitive skin works best.

If the irritation continues or worsens despite all efforts, an allergy may be the culprit. A trip to the pediatrician is in order.

Maintaining healthy skin for babies with sensitive skin requires consistency. More often than not, if a parent relaxes efforts at skin maintenance, the child will react with more dry skin patches that need help. Assuming your baby does not have allergies, use the following routine to care for your baby's skin:

1) Bathe your baby in luke-warm water. Less is more with cleansing products. Babies typically don't get very dirty. Wash with water only, adding soap every other bath. The soap should be mild, and perfume free. Many doctors recommend Dove Scent Free for Sensitive Skin.

2) Pat your baby with a towel - don’t rub. Friction can cause irritation. While your baby is still damp, apply a quality, perfume free lotion. Some examples of this would be Cetaphil lotion, or Eucerin. If you find areas that are drier than normal, try a cream such as Johnson & Johnson's Baby Cream, or an ointment such as Aquaphor (made by Eucerin), A&D ointment, or Vaseline.

3) Continue to use perfume free laundering products, and dress your baby in natural, breathable fabrics such as cotton.

Many babies suffer from a condition called cradle cap. Cradle cap occurs when dry skin builds up on the scalp of a baby, and can result in large crusty patches usually on top of the head and on the soft spot. Unlike other dry skin problems, this usually requires scrubbing to remove. Prior to bathing, apply a good coat of vegetable oil to the areas in question. Allow the oil to work for a few minutes, and then gently rub the area with a toothbrush. Wash the child's hair as usual. A few applications may be needed, but this should work for most cases. Do not use a dandruff shampoo without first consulting a physician.

Most babies will get at least one diaper rash. Allowing the diaper area to dry, and applying a zinc oxide ointment to the area whenever the diaper is changed generally treat mild rashes. If the rash becomes raw and weeping, it typically means that the diaper is being soiled too frequently and is too acidic for the skin to be given a chance to heal. Reduce or eliminate juice and fruit consumption for a few days, and change the diaper more frequently. When changing the diaper, cleanse the skin with a soft cloth, gentle soap and water. Allow the area to dry, and then apply a liquid antacid to the area. Allow that to dry, and then seal the area with an ointment such as Aquaphor or Vaseline. If the rash persists for several days, becomes worse, or develops raised bumps, contact a physician to rule out yeast infection and seek out more aggressive treatments.