Babies are famous for having incredibly soft skin, but that velvety smoothness comes at a price: Itchy, painful rashes. That's especially true in the diaper area, of course, and there's nothing like a raging diaper rash to put a baby in a horrible mood. You'd try just about anything to make it go away, and there are tons of creams and ointments to choose from. Still, lots of parents swear by straight-up, old-fashioned cornstarch. Seems harmless enough, and it's certainly affordable. But is cornstarch safe for diaper rash?
First things first: Not all diaper rashes are created equal, so before you treat your baby's diaper rash, it can help to figure out what's causing it. Usually, diaper rash is triggered by a combination of too much moisture, too little air, friction, and irritants (the contents of your baby's diaper, the cleansers in baby wipes, bath products, etc.), according to What to Expect. Diaper rashes themselves can fall into one of several categories, including chafing (the most common type), yeast, intertrigo (a red area that can ooze), impetigo (a bacterial infection), and eczema.
The way you treat your baby's diaper rash will depend on the type. Steroid creams, anti-fungal ointments, and topical or oral antibiotics are among the options, according to The Mayo Clinic, along with such measures as keeping baby as dry as possible and giving her diaper-free time to "air out" the problem area. But while talc-based baby powder was once a staple found on changing tables everywhere, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against using it because babies can easily inhale the particles, causing harm to the lungs. But what about cornstarch? It's also a powder, but it's talc-free. And just as parents used to rely on baby powder, many claim cornstarch is a miracle worker. So what do experts think?
"Typically we don't recommend cornstarch, baby powders, or other powders on our babies," pediatrician Natasha Burgert, M.D., tells Romper.
"Most docs will recommend lubricating emollients for diaper rash to keep a moisture barrier intact, rather than trying to wick moisture from the skin. However, cornstarch has been used for many generations and is likely safe to try."
You might have heard some people (even medical professionals) say that cornstarch makes yeast-based rashes worse. But a study published in the journal Pediatric Dermatology found that cornstarch was shown to minimize and protect against irritation from friction, and did not enhance the growth of yeast on human skin.
Dr. Burgert agrees that cornstarch in itself is unlikely to make rashes worse, though if the rash doesn't improve, it "worsens without the proper care."
In the case of simple intertrigo, however, drying agents like cornstarch are actually recommended, according to American Family Physician.
Maybe that's why for some moms, cornstarch is just plain magic. Scroll through any of the many diaper rash remedy message boards out there and you'll find countless testimonials to the effectiveness of this simple home remedy. Whether used on its own or a thin coating of coconut oil, cornstarch has been known to dramatically reduce diaper rash symptoms overnight... even when other treatments have failed.
Because cornstarch is so cheap, you've essentially got nothing to lose by giving it a shot. Just be sure to use it sparingly, and keep it away from your baby's face. (And naturally, if your baby's rash doesn't respond to this or any other home remedies, call your pediatrician.)