Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(2):397

See related article on perianal streptococcal dermatitis.

What is diaper rash?

Diaper rash is common in babies. The rash usually isn't serious and can be easily treated.

Diaper rash is found on the skin inside your baby's diaper area. The skin looks red and irritated. The rash usually begins between your baby's legs. It may feel warm. It can spread to the stomach area, genitals and skin folds of the upper thighs. If the rash isn't treated, it may become infected. It may look very bright red with red bumps and blisters.

What causes diaper rash?

  • Too much moisture

  • Rubbing and friction

  • Skin contact with urine and feces

  • Allergic reaction to the diaper material or to creams, powders or wipes

How can I prevent diaper rash?

  • Change your baby's diaper often.

  • Keep the diaper loose enough to let air reach the skin inside the diaper.

  • Gently clean the affected skin with warm water. Pat gently with a clean, soft towel.

  • Don't use wipes that contain alcohol or perfume.

  • If you use cloth diapers and wash them yourself, use very hot water. Rinse carefully.

How is diaper rash treated?

Over-the-counter medicine that you can buy at the store can be used to treat most babies with diaper rash. The diaper should be changed often and, if possible, be left off to allow full exposure to the air. If the rash is severe, you may have to wake your baby up during the night to change the diaper. After each diaper change, use a thick layer of protective ointment or cream to physically protect the skin. Ointments that contain zinc oxide are very helpful. Desitin and one type of A&D ointment are examples of ointments that contain zinc oxide.

Don't use creams that contain steroids (cortisone or hydrocortisone) unless you are told to do so by your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If your baby has a diaper rash and also has a fever or seems sick, you should see your doctor. Also, call your doctor if the rash gets worse or isn't better after two or three days of treatment with an over-the-counter cream. Any rash that looks bright red, has crusted areas, sores or boils should be seen by your doctor.

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