Oh, to have the skin of a baby! A soft, lusciously-plump blank canvas, completely unspoiled and unmarked by life. But more than simply looking and feeling so different to our own adult skin, there are plenty of differences you can’t see. Here are five quick-fire ones:
#1 Thinner, looser skin layers
The layers of a baby’s skin are pretty thin (like sheets of tissue paper) - much thinner than adult skin layers which are more robust like sheets of printing paper. Adult skin layers are also better “glued” to each other whereas baby skin layers don’t seal very well to the delicate layers underneath. Finally, the network of connections that form each baby layer are looser than in adult skin (where those connections are nice and tight so they form a good barrier, keeping the outside world out).
So, much like a sieve, baby skin is easier to get past, meaning that skin pollutants (like some chemicals), germs and other environmental factors (such as UV) are more likely to be able to pass through to the delicate blood vessels and body tissues underneath.
Take away point: Make sure you cover up your baby’s skin – this will provide the “barrier” that their still-developing skin needs against all sorts of invaders.
#2 Water loss
Remember those looser skin layer connections? As well as letting more in, they let more out. Specifically, water. Which means that whilst baby skin looks much fresher and smoother than ours, they actually lose water at a faster rate and so need more protection against becoming dry and uncomfortable (or even getting micro splits, leaving it even more vulnerable to outside irritants).
Take away point: Use creams and balms on your baby’s skin. These are often more effective than lotions for sealing in precious moisture.
#3 Less pigment
Almost everyone (to varying degrees) produces a beautifully-protective pigment in their skin called melanin that blocks UV from reaching the living skin cells and helps them stay healthy.
Baby skin, however, produces less melanin, so their lovely, healthy skin cells can change more quickly after even a short period in the sun. In fact, the experts say that changes at a cellular level due to UV can happen even during the very first summer of a baby’s life.
Take away point: Sun protection should be front of mind for babies, with sun hats and shade being part of your everyday arsenal.
#4 Immature cooling systems
Adults have a couple of different ways to cool their bodies down in hot weather. When we get hot, the blood vessels in the middle layer of the skin get bigger, so that more blood can move closer to the surface where the heat can escape. Our sweat glands are also called into action by opening up and releasing water that helps further get rid of that excess body heat.
With babies both these skin cooling systems are still immature. Their nervous systems don’t yet fully control their sweat glands so they can’t cool down their body temperature nearly as well as we can.
Take away point: Ventilation and making sure that your baby has access to good airflow is important, particularly in summer. Make sure you follow all current SIDs recommendations. Keep them hydrated and always be on the look out for signs of overheating.
This one seems obvious – baby skin is younger than ours, meaning they have more time left on earth. But this also means that the same bout of sun exposure is more serious for them. How so?
Basically, the sun exposure we all receive takes a while to show itself. So, it’s more likely to be those bare-chested childhood frolics down by the beach (rather than sitting out in the sun when in your thirties) that show up in your sixties in the form of skin health problems. Essentially the earlier the exposure is, the more chance it has to manifest itself.
And let’s not forget that the experts tell us that just one case of bad sunburn for a baby or can more than double the chances of melanoma in later life.
Take away point: Make sun protection part of your baby’s daily routine. This is especially important in Australia, because in many parts of our country, the UV level is too high even in winter.