Petroleum Jelly Versus Diaper Cream

Parents have used petroleum jelly for decades as a barrier between their infants' delicate skin and wetness. However, there are now dozens of brands of diaper creams and ointments that promise to protect your baby from diaper rash as well as moisturize or medicate the skin. Choose the option that best suits your baby and the type of diapers she is wearing.

An array of cremes and lotions with diapers sit on a shelf. Credit: Elena Schweitzer/iStock/Getty Images

Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly is an oil-based ointment that shields your infant's skin from rash by sealing it from moisture. Many parents prefer petroleum jelly over diaper creams because it is inexpensive and typically does not have additional dyes or perfumes that may irritate a baby's skin. However, petroleum jelly is thick and may rub off on diapers, coating them and preventing them from absorbing wetness as efficiently. This can especially be a problem with cloth diapers, because the petroleum jelly may not wash off completely.

Diaper Cream

Diaper creams are usually made with zinc oxide, which coats the baby's skin and forms a barrier against wetness. These creams are less gooey than petroleum jelly and as a result, may be less likely to rub off on diapers and clothing. There are many brands of diaper cream available and they come in a variety of scents and formulas, including unscented and hypo-allergenic. These brands vary in price and effectiveness.

Using Ointments and Creams

Whatever what type of cream or ointment is used, it is applied during each diaper change directly before fastening the new diaper. You do not need to wipe off the old ointment or cream unless it has dried or become soiled. Some infants only need cream when their skin becomes irritated and others need cream applied with each diaper change to ensure that they do not develop a rash.

Special Ointments and Creams

Some diaper rashes require prescription ointments or creams. These diaper rashes are caused by yeast or bacteria rather than irritation from wetness, like a normal diaper rash. Some of these infections begin when the irritation from a diaper rash isn't cleared up, leaving small breaks in the skin where bacteria or yeast can enter. Characteristics of an infected diaper rash include red spots on the affected area, pus or lesions, and scabs. If your infant has any of these symptoms, take him to the pediatrician for evaluation.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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