Diaper Dermatitis in Children

What is diaper dermatitis?

Diaper dermatitis is inflammation of the skin in the diaper area. It’s a very common condition in babies and toddlers.

What causes diaper dermatitis?

In most cases, diaper dermatitis is a type of contact dermatitis. That means the skin is inflamed from contact with certain substances. In diaper dermatitis, urine and feces irritate the skin. 

Other common causes of diaper dermatitis include:

  • Candida. This is a yeast infection in the diaper area. Candida infection may occur if contact dermatitis is not treated within a few days.
  • Seborrhea. This is a common, long-term skin condition. The cause of seborrhea is not known. It usually affects the diaper area and other parts of the body.

Other less common causes of dermatitis in the diaper area include:

  • Bacteria. Staph or strep bacteria can cause it.
  • Allergies. It can be caused by an allergic reaction to dye in disposable diapers, or detergent used to wash cloth diapers.

Who is at risk for diaper dermatitis?

Any baby or toddler can develop diaper dermatitis. Factors that increase the risk include:

  • Not changing diapers often enough
  • Diarrhea or frequent bowel movements
  • Bottle-feeding instead of breastfeeding
  • Taking antibiotic medicines

What are the symptoms of diaper dermatitis?

The symptoms of diaper dermatitis vary depending on the cause. And symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. They can include:

  • Contact diaper dermatitis. Skin that is irritated from urine and feces will look red and shiny. The skin on the buttocks, thighs, belly (abdomen), and waist may be affected. The skin creases or folds are usually not affected.
  • Candida diaper dermatitis. The skin is a deep red color with patches outside of the diaper area. A baby may also have a yeast infection in the mouth (thrush). The creases or folds of the thighs and in the diaper area are usually affected. 
  • Seborrheic diaper dermatitis. The skin is red with yellow, oily patches. It also affects the skin folds. It also usually affects the face, scalp, or neck at the same time.

The symptoms of diaper dermatitis can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is diaper dermatitis diagnosed?

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she will give your child a physical exam. Your child's healthcare provider may advise lab tests, but they are usually not needed.

How is diaper dermatitis treated?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on the cause, and how severe the condition is. Treatment may include:

  • Periods of time without wearing diapers
  • Frequent diaper changes
  • Ointment applied to the diaper area to protect the skin
  • Antifungal cream or ointment for a Candida infection
  • Corticosteroid cream for more severe dermatitis
  • Antibiotic medicine for a bacterial infection. 

Can diaper dermatitis be prevented?

Proper skin care is very important to prevent diaper dermatitis. This includes:

  • Keeping the skin under a diaper clean and dry
  • Changing diapers often
  • Letting the skin under a diaper to air dry at times
  • Letting your child to go without a diaper when possible
  • Gently cleaning the diaper area with a soft cloth and warm water
  • Limiting the use of soap or other strong products on the skin
  • Not using scented wipes or wipes with alcohol

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call the healthcare provider if your child has:

  • Symptoms that don’t get better in 2 to 3 days
  • Symptoms that get worse
  • Blisters or pus-filled sores

Key points about diaper dermatitis

  • Diaper dermatitis is inflammation of the skin under a diaper.
  • It is most often due to irritation from urine and feces.
  • Different types of diaper dermatitis have different symptoms. When irritated from urine and feces, the skin is usually red in color.
  • Treatment includes diaper-free periods, cream, and ointment.
  • It is important to keep the diaper area clean and dry, change diapers often, and avoid irritants such as soap or scented wipes.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s health care provider:
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.