What Is Diaper Rash?

Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatments

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Diaper rash is redness or irritation that develops on the genitals, buttocks, or thighs. It’s the most common skin condition that affects infants, occurring in about half of all babies.

Diaper rash can affect anyone who wears a diaper, but babies between 9 months and 12 months old are most at risk for developing the skin condition. Diaper rash is usually easy to treat.

This article discusses the symptoms and causes of diaper rash and various treatment options.

A dad changing a baby's diaper

Nikola Stojadinovic / Getty Images

Diaper Rash Symptoms

A diaper rash can be mild or appear as painful, open sores, which are susceptible to infection. Symptoms of diaper rash may include:  

  • Redness, blisters, pimples, sores, ulcers, or bumps on the skin of the diaper area
  • Red or scaly spots on the baby’s genitals, buttocks, or thighs
  • Skin that’s warm to the touch

Babies with a diaper rash often cry during changing. Older toddlers might also scratch the area.

When to Seek Medical Care

Call a healthcare provider if your baby has the following:

  • A fever
  • A rash that bleeds or oozes fluid
  • Ulcers or pimples
  • A rash that spreads or gets worse
  • Diaper rash that develops in the first six weeks after birth

Causes

Diaper rash is an inflammatory reaction of the skin. In most cases, the main cause of diaper rash is contact with certain substances, such as urine and feces, which can irritate the skin.

Other causes of diaper rash include:

  • Candida infection: A yeast infection can affect the diaper area.
  • Allergic reactions: A reaction to soaps, lotions, laundry detergents, wipes, or disposable diapers can aggravate a baby’s skin.
  • Bacteria: Sometimes, staph or strep bacteria can cause diaper rash.
  • Rubbing: If diapers rub against the skin or are too tight, they can trigger redness and irritation.
  • Antibiotics: Babies who take antibiotics or nurse from a parent who takes antibiotics may be more likely to develop a yeast infection that can lead to diaper rash.
  • Foods: Certain foods or changes in a baby’s diet can alter their stool, making them more prone to diaper rash.

Why Does Stool and Urine Cause Diaper Rash?

Frequent bowel movements (stool) and urine left in a diaper too long may contain substances that inflame the skin around the diaper area. Newborns and infants whose diapers are changed more frequently are less likely to experience diaper rash.

Diagnosis

Healthcare providers typically diagnose diaper rash by looking at the area. If your provider wants to test for a yeast infection, they may perform a KOH exam. This commonly involves scraping a small area of the skin and examining it under a microscope for fungus.

Treatment

The best way to cure diaper rash fast is to keep the skin clean and dry. Clean a baby's diaper area with warm water and mild soap, but don't scrub the skin. Some ways of treating a diaper rash include:

  • Placing babies on a towel without a diaper for as long as possible can help the rash heal
  • Changing diapers as soon as the baby has a bowel movement or urinates
  • Putting diapers on loosely, so air can flow better
  • Avoiding wipes that contain alcohol or perfumes that can irritate the skin

For mild rashes, over-the-counter (OTC) creams and ointments can help. Products that contain zinc oxide or petroleum jelly can keep moisture at bay and protect the skin.

Depending on what's causing the rash, healthcare providers might prescribe an antifungal cream, a corticosteroid cream, or an antibiotic cream.  

Which Type of Diaper Is Best?

Research suggests that disposable diapers rather than cloth diapers can lower the risk of diaper rash. However, how frequently the diaper is changed is more important than the type of diaper used. Some people notice that more absorbent diapers protect better against diaper rash.

Prognosis: How Serious Is Diaper Rash? 

Diaper rash usually responds well to treatment. In most cases, a diaper rash can heal within two to three days.

Complications of Diaper Rash

Sometimes, severe diaper rash can develop into an infection that struggles to respond to treatment. In babies with darker skin, diaper rash can cause areas of the skin to lighten, which can take months or years to return to normal.

Coping 

Babies with diaper rash may be fussy or irritable. Some healthcare providers may recommend pain medicines for older infants to help ease the discomfort.

Summary

Diaper rash is a common skin condition that affects babies and toddlers. Most often, it happens because the skin in the diaper area comes in contact with feces or urine. The best way to treat diaper rash is to keep a baby’s skin dry and clean and change their diaper often. Several creams and ointments are available to soothe the skin and clear up the rash. Diaper rash usually responds well to treatment.  

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Common diaper rashes and treatments.

  2. UpToDate. Patient education: Diaper rash in infants and children.

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Diaper dermatitis.

  4. American Academy of Family Physicians. Diaper rash.

  5. Mount Sinai. Diaper rash.

  6. American Academy of Dermatology. How to treat diaper rash.

  7. American Academy of Pediatrics. Diapers: Disposable or cloth?.

  8. Nemours KidsHealth. Diaper rash.