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?
The pantry staple has been "used for many generations," as pediatrician Natasha Burgert, M.D., tells Romper. But while it's "likely safe to try," that doesn't mean it's necessarily your best bet, either.
"Typically we don't recommend cornstarch, baby powders, or other powders on our babies," Dr. Burgert says.
"Most docs will recommend lubricating emollients for diaper rash to keep a moisture barrier intact, rather than trying to wick moisture from the skin," she adds.
Makes sense. And yet, some moms claim 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 with a thin coating of coconut oil, cornstarch has been known to dramatically reduce diaper rash symptoms overnight... even when other treatments have failed. So what's the deal?
Basically, how successful cornstarch or any other treatment will be in treating your baby's diaper rash depends on what's causing the rash in the first place, Dr. Burgert says. 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.
You might have heard some people (even medical professionals) say that cornstarch makes yeast-based rashes worse. And older 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. A recent study published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology used cornstarch in conjunction with a natural cream to test it's effectiveness as a barrier and found that it was over 70 percent effective with no adverse affects.
In the case of simple intertrigo, drying agents like cornstarch are actually recommended, according to American Family Physician. While talc-based baby powder was once found on changing tables everywhere for this reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against using it because babies can easily inhale the particles, causing harm to the lungs. (Cornstarch is also a powder, but it's talc-free.)
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.)
Leyden, J. (1984) Corn starch, Candida albicans, and diaper rash. Pediatric Dermatology, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1525-1470.1984.tb01138.x?sid=nlm%3Apubmed&.
Gunt, H, Levy, S, & Lutrario, C. (2018) A Natural Cream-to-Powder Formulation Developed for the Prevention of Diaper Dermatitis in Diaper-Wearing Infants and Children: Barrier Property and In-Use Tolerance Studies. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, https://jddonline.com/articles/dermatology/S1545961618P0566X/.
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