Allergic reaction to diapers

Allergic reaction to diapers
September 10, 2015 5:12 PM

Has your baby been suffering from diaper rashes lately? You would wish to get rid of these problems as a parent but you don’t know what is causing these rashes. One of the major factor causing these rashes are the diapers that the child is wearing. You should read this article if you want to know more about allergic reactions to diapers and how to deal with them. Remember that this post is not a medical advice and that you should always visit your physician if you or your baby suffers from any disorders.


Allergies caused by diaper rashes

Let us first look at some common allergies caused by diapers before looking into the signs and symptoms of these allergies. Some common allergies caused by diaper rashes have been mentioned below:

Contact dermatitis

The first allergy which can be caused due to diapers is contact dermatitis, which is a skin inflammation. This allergy is caused by constant exposure to irritant or allergens.

This infection is usually caused when the irritation is caused in the skin due to physical contact with some foreign substance. Contact dermatitis usually affects the superficial regions of the skin. The tissues are mainly affected in the dermis and the epidermis. Large and itchy rashes are produced in the skin of the baby as a result of this allergy. It takes several days for this rash to heal completely. Contact dermatitis fades away when the skin doesn’t come in contact with the irritant.

This allergy is usually restricted to the area on which the skin is actually touched. Irritant dermatitis is different from this and spreads over a wide area on the skin.

Some common symptoms of both these allergies are:

  • Welts or wheals, where a pattern is formed in the skin where it was actually affected by the allergen.
  • Red rashes appearing on the skin. The rash appears after a day or two in contact dermatitis whereas the rash appears almost immediately in irritant contact dermatitis.

Irritant diaper dermatitis

The other common allergy caused by diapers is irritant diaper dermatitis. The other name for it is napkin dermatitis. This allergy spreads to concave surfaces when it mixes with bacteria and fungus. It is treated as a form of irritant dermatitis. The word diaper is present in this allergy but the truth is that this allergy isn’t caused by the diapers but the materials contained in the diaper. Diaper candidiasis is the term used when the fungus is identified.

Now let us see how this allergy is caused. The main reason that irritant diaper dermatitis is caused is due to the wetness that is caused and the increase in pH caused by feces and urine or the breaking of the outer layer of skin. It can be caused due to frequent stools, diarrhea, overexposure to ammonia and tight diapers. An adult’s outermost layer consists of about 30 layers which are replaced from below continuously. Lipids are present in these dead cells due to which the skin layer become water proof. The main function of the outer layer of the skin is to repel the water, cause reduction in water loss and protect the deeper skin layers from injury. The outer layer in babies is quite thin and is easily destroyed.

You can consider diaper rash as an interigo which is the irritation in the skin caused by moisture between two skin surfaces. So, this problem is ended by anything which keeps the skin surfaces dry.

The main factor which softens the outer layers of the skin is wetness. But wetness alone isn’t the only factor. Urine also has the impact on the pH levels of the skin. Studies have shown that ammonia acts as a mild irritant. But the pH is increased when the urea breaks down in the presence of fecal urease. This increases the overall activity of lipase and protease. The hydration of the skin is increased by these fecal enzymes.

So far, no physical difference has been seen between the reusable cloth diaper and conventional disposable diaper. It has been observed that the babies who wear disposable diapers with gelling material are less affected by allergies as compared to the babies wearing clothed diapers. But dyes are present in superabsorbent diapers which causes allergic contact dermatitis. The key here is to make the baby wear such diapers which don’t make him wet. So, it doesn’t matter whether the baby wears clothed diaper or disposable diaper; the diaper should be changed on frequent basis. Disposable diaper are specially engineered in a way that they reduce rashes by absorbing the moisture away. New superabsorbent microfiber cloth is also placed inside clothed diaper which comes in contact with the skin. This pulls extra moisture away from the skin. So this is also quite popular these days.

Table for pros and cons of disposable and clothed diapers:

The following table will give you a better idea about the pros and cons of diaper rash:

  Pros Cons
Disposable diapers
  • Convenient
  • You can easily throw away after use
  • Helpful when travelling
  • Contains absorbent materials, which take away moisture from the baby’s skin and prevent rash
  • Expensive
  • Can cause diaper rash as parent change the diaper only after it is completely wet
  • Environmental hazard 
Clothed diapers
  • Especially designed soft for baby’s sensitive skin
  • Reusable
  • Present in a variety of textures
  • Cheaper as compared to disposable diapers
  • Difficult to use when travelling
  • May leak
  • Washing is time consuming



There is a link between diaper rashes and diet. The reason is that the fecal enzymes are mostly affected by the foods baby eats. Breast fed babies aren’t that much prone to diaper rash. The reason behind this is the milk they drink makes their fecal pH levels higher with low enzyme activity. Children from the ages between eight and twelve months are mostly affected by diaper rash. The reason behind this is that there are dietary changes during this period which directly affect the fecal composition. So, a baby becomes prone to diaper rash when there is a major dietary change.

The link between diaper rashes and feces is quite clear. It has been seen in researches that babies are more prone to diaper rash after taking antibiotics (1). It has also been seen that the babies who have suffered from diarrhea in the past 48 to 72 hours are more prone to diaper rash as compared to others. The main reason behind this is that the fecal enzymes such as protease and lipase are more active in the feces after diarrhea.

Causes of diaper rash

Now you know some common allergies caused by diaper rash. But the question is that how is diaper rash caused in the first place. This isn’t any easy question to answer. But there are many factors which can cause diaper rash. Some of the common causes of diaper rash are mentioned below:

Sensitivity to chemicals

One of the main causes of diaper rash is that the diaper of the baby may constantly be rubbed against his skin. This can happen when the baby is sensitive to certain kinds of chemicals present in the diaper. One of the main causes may be that the lotion or powder which you are using in the diaper doesn’t fall in line with the skin of baby.


Diaper can leave moisture on the skin of the child. Most of the times, the urine of the child mixes with bacteria from the stool which can break into ammonia. Ammonia is quite harsh for the skin. So children having bowel movement have more chances of getting diaper rash.

New foods

The children get diaper rash most of the times when they are exposed to solid foods or they are introduced to different new kinds of foods. The composition of the stool is changed by the change in diet. The bowel movements of a child may also increase due to the change in diet. Breast feeding women should be careful with their diet because the child skin may be affected by the food eaten by mother.

Yeast infection

There is warmth and moistness in the diaper region which is quite suitable for the bacteria. Bacteria and yeast can settle in these places and cause rashes. Mostly the rashes are formed in the folds of the child’s skin.


Antibiotics can also be another reason for yeast infection. The reason is that there are some drugs which reduce the number of healthy bacteria. This weakens the actions of white blood cells against the bad bacteria. Diarrhea can also be caused by antibiotics which can in turn cause diaper rash.

Signs and symptoms of diaper rash

By now you should know about the kind of allergies caused by diapers and the role played by diet in diaper rash. This section of the article will discuss some common signs and symptoms of diaper rash. There are two major signs and symptoms of diaper rash which have been mentioned below:

  • The area of the skin affected by diaper rash may become red and pimples and skin patches may be prominent on the area. Usually the rash is caused in diaper area. This includes buttocks, thighs, and genital organs. The affected area of skin may become warm to touch.
  • A child suffering from diaper rash may show irritability and may cry during the change of diaper. The child will usually cry when the diaper area is touched. Red bumps are usually caused in the area present in skin folds. Some other common signs of infection include pus, redness and blisters. Sometimes the red areas are formed beyond the main rash. This is common with Candida yeast infection rashes.

Treatment of diaper rash

Most people think that treating diaper rash is difficult. But the truth is that treating diaper rash isn’t difficult at all. You just need to know the right way to treat it. Some major treatments of diaper rash have been mentioned below:

The dry way

Diaper rash can make the parents quite worried for the child. Diaper rashes are usually caused by moisture entering the diaper. So, you should make sure that the diaper is totally clean before putting it on the baby. Make sure that you take a fresh diaper. You should be gentle when you dry and clean your child because any roughness can further damage the baby’s skin. You should pat the areas where the diaper rash is already present. But this method might be tiresome for you as a parent as you would have to change the diaper many times. But you should change wet diapers as many times as possible (2).


Urine is alkaline and can cause damage to the soft skin of the baby. Vinegar is the most powerful ingredient to balance out this effect. There are three ways to use vinegar which have been mentioned below:

  • You can rinse clothed or disposable diaper in a vinegar solution. Put 1/2 cup of vinegar in about half a bucket of water and wash the diapers of the baby in it. This will help you in getting rid of soap building up and the smell of urine.
  • You can also make a weak vinegar solution by adding one cup of vinegar to a cup of water. Wash the bottom of the baby with this solution and then put the diaper on. This will make your baby’s skin resistant to yeast.
  • You can add half cup of vinegar in water when you wash the diapers of baby. You can also wash the baby’s bottom with a solution of eight parts water to have the similar effect.

Baking soda

Baking soda can also be used to treat diaper rash due to its healing properties. There are two methods which you can use. Take a bathing tub and add two tablespoons of baking soda in it and give your baby a bath in this water. Bathe the baby three times a day for ten minutes. Dry the baby with a dry towel and then put the diaper on.

You can also take four cups and dissolve two tablespoons of baking soda in them. You should wash the bottom of the baby with this mixture whenever you see a rash. Clean the baby’s skin with a light towel and then put the diaper on.

Zinc oxide cream

Zinc oxide cream can also be used to treat diaper rash (3). You should apply the cream really gently if the baby is already suffering from severe diaper rashes. Don’t remove cream with diaper change. Just remove it till the end of the day.

Petroleum jelly

Petroleum jelly can also be applied to the soft skin of baby every time the diaper is changed. Petroleum jelly is quite helpful as it protects the diaper area from the effects of urine and feces. Clean your baby’s bottom with warm water after putting off previous diaper. Use towel to dry it and then put petroleum jelly on it. You should use petroleum jelly every time you change the diaper if you want the diaper rash to be healed quickly.

Use baby-friendly skin products

You should use soaps, creams and shampoos that are exclusively limited to the sensitive skin of the infants. You shouldn’t use softeners, detergents, and bleaches having strong fragrance for cleaning the diaper because certain chemicals can prove harmful for the skin. You shouldn’t use hot hair dryers on young babies. You should use fan on diaper area to dry the skin if you don’t have access to a hair dryer.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil can be used on a baby’s skin because it has antimicrobial and antifungal properties. The soft skin of the baby is soothed by applying coconut oil. Coconut oil acts as a moisturizer. You can apply some coconut to the rash areas several times a day. You can also add coconut oil to bathing water. This will help in killing the yeast candida, which is responsible for causing diaper rash.

Shea butter

Shea butter can also be used for treating diaper rash. The reason is the anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties present in it. Many beneficial fats are also present in it which improve the blood circulation and help in the quick healing of the rashes. Wash the bottom of your baby with lukewarm water and soap to get rid of baby rash. Let the area dry. Now rub shea butter in your hands. Now rub the shea butter on the affected area. Leave it as such for a few minutes and then put on a new diaper.

Breast milk

Breast milk is the least expensive and a sure way to cure diaper rash. It helps in soothing the skin and in fighting different infections. The advantage that breast milk has over other ways of diaper rash treatments is that there is no risk of an allergy to the baby. All you need to do is to rub a few drops of breast milk on the affected portion of the skin. Let the area dry for some time and then put on a new diaper.

Plantain oil

Diaper rash can also be relieved by the use of plantain oil. This oil can treat the diaper rash caused due to different allergies. Anti-allergic properties are present in the oil which help the body against inflammation from diaper rash. Plantain oil or herb can also be used for the treatment of diaper rash. You can crush plantain oil into fine pieces and put them onto the baby’s skin whenever you change diaper. You can also put plantain oil directly on the baby’s skin and then put on the diaper.

French green clay

French green clay is quite effective in treating the diaper rash which is caused by yeast infection. French green clay doesn’t allow the rash to spread and helps the skin of the baby to heal quickly. Put some French green clay over the affected skin in order to treat diaper rash.

Don’t use powder

The most preferred way to dry the bottom of a baby in the past was the use of talcum powder or corn starch on the diaper area. But studies have shown that inhaling talcum powder can be quite dangerous because it contains some degree of poison in it (4). And corn starch can also affect the growth of the yeast. So it’s better not to use these two.

Putting the diapers to dryer properly

Some parents think that there will be less incidence of diaper rash if the diapers are hung out instead of being put directly into the dryer. It may be an old remedy but there seems some truth in it. Experts say that this little act of putting the diapers out in the sun to dry seems to work on diaper rash but no one is sure of the reason why. So you should find a place to hang the diapers. Don’t use dryer sheets because they contain certain chemicals which can harm the baby’s skin. You should also take care to wash diapers in hot water without the use of bleach.

Difference between diaper rash and allergic reaction

Many people have asked the question that how they can tell the difference between an allergic reaction and diaper rash. There are three main differences between a diaper rash and an allergic reaction.

  • An allergic reaction isn’t affected by the change of the diaper of the baby. Diaper rash on the other hand is affected by how often you change the baby’s diaper. Thus, typical diaper rash cures don’t have an effect on the allergies. So you can apply the diaper rash cures on any rash seen at the baby’s bottom. You will know by this way whether the rash is a diaper rash or an allergic reaction. It’s a diaper rash if the rash goes away but it is an allergic reaction if the diaper rash doesn’t go away.
  • The other thing which makes the diaper rash and typical allergic reaction different from each other is the location of the rash. Mostly, diaper rashes occur in the places where the urine and fecal matter touch each other. They can also occur in the areas between the genitals and the legs. An allergic reaction mostly affects other parts of the body like the waist line.
  • Another difference between allergic reactions and diaper rashes is the way they look. Typical diaper rashes look different from rashes caused by allergic reactions. A typical diaper rash looks like a reddened area. However, tiny red bumps are formed on the baby’s skin in an allergic reaction and these bumps are formed at areas like the hands and skin.


This article has informed the readers about different types of diaper rash, their causes, their symptoms and some popular diaper rash treatments. In conclusion, diaper rash is quite harmful for the baby. It is a cause of concern for the parents. While the remedies mentioned in this article have been tested by thousands of people and helped them to deal with baby diaper rash we do recommend asking your doctor for advice before trying any home treatment.

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Written by: Michal Vilímovský (EN)
Education: Medical student, 3rd Faculty of Medicine, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
Article resources: See numbered references within the article.
Image resources:
Published: September 10, 2015 5:12 PM
Next scheduled update: September 10, 2017 5:12 PM
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