Baby skin is significantly different from adult skin. It can be five times thinner than adult skin and its basic functions – from producing protective skin oils to making enough melanin to provide natural sun protection – haven’t fully kicked in. In fact, skin is one of the few organs that isn’t fully developed at birth. Further, it is during the last couple weeks of gestation that baby skin does most of its thickening to prepare for transitioning from the aqueous environment of amniotic fluid to the air environment in which we live and breathe. Your baby’s skin has a lot of work to do just after birth, and even more if baby is born even a week early.
One of the key transitions baby skin will make is adjusting from a pH of about 7 to one of about 5.5. pH refers to the acid-base scale, with water and most internal body fluids being at or near a pH of 7. Acids are low on the scale and bases are high on the scale. The process of adjusting pH is imperative for the development of healthy micro-flora on the skin’s surface and for maintaining an acid-mantle balance that is an essential component of normal skin function.
The acid-mantle balance is a very thin layer of fluid over the skin’s surface. It is so thin you can’t even see it. But, when the acid-mantle is imbalanced or before it is formed after birth, you can certainly see the results of the imbalance. The acid-mantle is made up of skin secretions from your baby’s sebaceous (oil-producing) and eccrine (sweat producing) glands, combined with micro-flora.
An acid mantle barrier that is out of balance or under-developed will result in the very common flaking and skin blemishes that we see on nearly every newborn baby. Without that barrier, the skin cells will literally pull away from each other resulting in rough patches, reactiveness, flaking and dehydration. Skin in this condition is also more vulnerable to infection and at higher risk of damage from environmental exposure.
The key to creating and then maintaining a proper skin pH and acid-mantle barrier is to use pH balanced skin cleansers, avoid over bathing and castile soaps, and use pH balanced moisturizers that are free from harsh chemicals, fragrances, parabens and petroleum byproducts. The most common way to interfere with baby’s skin pH is the use of inappropriate cleansers and coating it with petroleum based lotions. Castile soaps have a pH near 9 and most cleansers have a pH near 7. Baby’s skin pH should be acidic at about 5.5 and so should her skin care products.
In addition to proper cleansing, protect vulnerable or irritated skin with defensive, occlusive products that will support skin development and proper moisture balance while sealing out wetness and germs. Use healthy, natural lotions, creams and ointments liberally to best protect your baby’s skin. Beyond skincare, use a humidifier in baby’s room, reduce or avoid exposure to sun and wind and avoid overheating baby, which can cause excessive sweating.