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What are the causes of dry skin in babies when born?

Updated April 17, 2017

Newborn babies go through many physical changes in their first few weeks of life. Many changes are normal and are a part of the baby's natural growth, but others can be symptoms of something more serious. One common physical change that concerns parents is skin peeling. If your newborn's skin is flaking or peeling, it is almost always a normal occurrence that is not a cause for concern.

Response to air

For the last nine months, your baby has been floating in amniotic fluid in your womb. Once he is born, his skin has to cope with a new and much drier environment. It is normal for your baby's skin to flake and peel as it becomes accustomed to its new surroundings. Help your baby adapt to atmospheric changes faster by avoiding frequent baths and heavy lotions and keeping his skin dry as much as possible.

Vernix coating

When your baby is born, her skin is covered with a thin, waxy film called vernix caseosa. This is a mixture of the foetus' dead skin cells and skin gland secretions. As this coating comes off in your baby's bath, her skin will begin to peel. This is normal and does not mean your baby has dry skin. Rather than cover your baby in lotions, allow her to shed this dead skin naturally.

Late births

Babies who are born after their due date are more prone to peeling skin because their skin is thicker and has absorbed more vernix than babies who are born earlier. Post-mature babies, or babies born more than two weeks overdue, also have less body fat, so their skin tends to be more wrinkled. The grooves in the wrinkles are more prone to dampness that can also cause irritation and lead to flaky skin.

Cradle cap

Cradle cap is a reference to the scaly or crusty skin found on top of many newborns' heads. This condition is caused by a normal build-up of skin oils, scales and dead skin cells. Although cradle cap typically disappears after about 12 months, it can last up to several years. Cradle cap is harmless, but you can treat stubborn cases by washing your baby's head with shampoo or pure natural oil such as olive or almond oil. Then gently brush out the flakes with a soft baby brush.

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About the Author

Andrea Chrysanthou began writing professionally in 1993. Her work has been published internationally by "The Cyprus Mail," MochaSofa and My Favorite Trainer, among other magazines and websites. She holds a Bachelor of Applied Arts in journalism from Ryerson University. Chrysanthou is a certified fitness instructor and personal-training specialist with more than 10 years of experience in the fitness industry.