Why Your Newborn’s Skin Is Peeling

Flaky skin is usually normal and typically goes away in a few weeks

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Newborn skin peeling is normal for the first few days to weeks after a baby is born. In particular, you may notice flaky or peeling skin on your baby's hands or feet. It usually does not require any special treatment and should go away on its own.

While flaky skin is normal for most newborns, there are a few skin conditions that can cause skin peeling on your baby's face, diaper area, or elsewhere on their body.

This article covers a few reasons why your baby's skin is peeling along with when you should contact a healthcare provider.

Closeup instep or foot of a newborn with a skin peeling on white cloth. Skin allergies in newborn called Vernix. the concept of health care and medical.

Prot Tachapanit / Getty Images

Normal Causes of Newborn Skin Peeling

It's natural that a baby's one to two layers of skin will flake off in the weeks following their birth. This is mainly because the baby no longer has the protective coating of vernix caseosa that they had in the womb.

The womb is full of amniotic fluid that the baby lives in for the duration of the pregnancy. If the skin was in direct contact with the fluid, it would dry and wrinkle, much like you may notice your skin doing after you've soaked in a bathtub for a long time.

A baby develops vernix—a thick, cheese-like substance—to serve as a protective barrier between their skin and that fluid. Most commonly, though, a nurse gently wipes a baby down using a clean towel after birth. With fluids like a mother's blood and amniotic fluid goes vernix, too.

Once that happens, you may notice your baby’s skin has already begun to flake. This is more common in babies born after 40 weeks.

As a rule of thumb, the more vernix a baby is born with, the less their skin will peel later on. This explains why premature babies, who are born with more vernix, tend to have less peeling than those born after 40 weeks. 

Skin Conditions That Cause a Baby's Skin to Peel

Most babies will experience some degree of peeling skin, so there’s no need to see your healthcare provider right away. However, it's possible that peeling could be due to a skin condition that should be evaluated.

If you notice that your little one seems uncomfortable and is itching or in pain, see your child's healthcare provider.

Cradle Cap

If you notice that your infant’s scalp is flaking, your baby may have cradle cap, also known as seborrheic dermatitis.

Cradle cap is common in the first three months of life. Like normal peeling skin, it usually resolves on its own without any treatment.

If it starts to get worse or lasts longer than a few months, talk with your pediatrician. 

Eczema

Eczema is a skin condition that causes skin peeling, but also red, dry patches of skin. Also known as atopic dermatitis, it often begins before 6 months of age.

Infants usually develop baby eczema on the face or scalp. It can spread to other body areas, but usually does not affect the diaper area. 

Healthcare providers do not always know why an infant develops eczema. There is no cure, but it often clears up by the time a child is ready to start school.

It's possible to manage eczema by avoiding triggers (like detergents) and keeping bath times to a minimum. In some cases, over-the-counter creams, prescription medications, or phototherapy m ay be recommended.

Ichthyosis

Infants who have ichthyosis are born with an extra layer of skin on their bodies. This extra layer is called the collodion membrane, and is made up of skin cells that are usually shed before the baby is born.

This membrane sometimes resembles a plastic wrap and can keep your baby from being able to move easily. It can take several weeks for the membrane to crack and peel off.

Newborns with ichthyosis are usually cared for in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and placed in a high-humidity chamber. Babies usually need extra calories since this sloughing process requires a lot of energy. Their medical team may recommend extra feedings throughout the day.

This rare condition puts infants at risk of infection, and they will continue to be monitored in the NICU until they are stable. 

At-Home Treatment for Newborn Skin Peeling

Peeling skin is a normal process for newborns and usually resolves on its own within a few weeks. Some at-home treatments, such as using a hypoallergenic moisturizer, can help your baby avoid dry skin. 

To treat and protect your baby's peeling skin:

  • Reduce your baby’s bath time to just five to 10 minutes. Sitting in warm water can strip the skin of its natural oils, so the shorter the bath the better. Bathe them just two or three times a week.
  • Apply a gentle moisturizer to your baby’s skin. Look for a hypoallergenic lotion and apply it after bath time to seal in moisture and avoid dry skin.
  • Minimize the use of other products. Less is more when it comes to your baby’s skin.
  • Avoid chemicals and fragrances whenever possible. Babies have sensitive skin, so opt for unscented laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and soaps.
  • Keep your baby hydrated with breastmilk or formula. Babies should not drink water or other liquids until they are at least 6 months old. Talk with your pediatrician if you’re concerned about dehydration. 
  • Use a humidifier in your baby’s room overnight to add moisture to the air. 
  • Bundle them up when it's cold. Dry, cold air can pull moisture from skin, resulting in dryness and flakes. Make sure your baby’s hands and feet are always covered when temperatures drop.
  • Protect skin from the sun. Cover your baby’s skin with light garments and a hat when heading out on a bright day. Try to stick to short outings in the shade.

A Word From Verywell

Most newborns will experience peeling, flaky skin after birth. The peeling usually clears up on its own without the need for treatment or other intervention.

Talk with your healthcare provider if your baby seems uncomfortable or the skin starts to become red and inflamed. At-home treatments to avoid dry skin, like limiting bath time and applying a gentle moisturizer, may help.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long until baby's skin stops peeling?

    Newborn skin peeling often happens during the first few days after they are born. You may notice most of the peeling on the palms of your newborn's hands, their ankles, or the soles of their feet. It should go away on its own within a week or two.

  • Should I put lotion on my newborn's peeling skin?

    Peeling skin on a newborn is normal. It does not mean that their skin is dry. Newborn skin is very sensitive, so you should not lotion it unless your baby's healthcare provider tells you to. If your baby's skin does seem excessively dry, the physician may recommend an unscented, non-alcohol-based skincare product that is safe for newborn skin.

  • How often should I bathe my newborn?

    Most babies only need to be bathed two to three times per week or every other day.

6 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. Kids Health. Looking at Your Newborn: What’s Normal.

  2. John Hopkins Medicine. Newborn Skin 101.

  3. National Eczema Association. Eczema in Children.

  4. Foundation for Ichthyosis and Related Skin Types. Ichthyosis Care.

  5. Johnson's. Newborn skin care guide.

  6. Stanford Children's Health. Bathing and skin care for the newborn.

By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.