At one time or another, most parents open up their baby's diaper - expecting to find a soggy, dirty mess - to see a red, irritated rash. It's estimated that at any given time, up to 35% of all infants have the common skin condition known as diaper rash. In many cases, the rash is caused by exposure to irritants such as moisture, friction, urine, or feces. But up to 20% of diaper rash cases could be caused by exposure to the dyes used in infant diapers, say researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Massachusetts.
The researchers identified five children referred to a dermatology clinic because of severe diaper rash.
- The first child was 9 months old and had a red, bumpy rash on his chest, arms, and legs as well as his diaper area. The diaper rash occurred where his skin came into contact with green dye in his diaper. After he started wearing dye-free diapers, his rash went away with no other treatment. After his rash cleared up, he had allergy testing that determined his sensitivity to several colored diaper dyes.
- The second child, an 18-month-old, had a rash that lasted for 4 months and began in the diaper area but spread to the hips, back, abdomen, and shoulders. Hydrocortisone cream didn't help clear up the rash. The baby's mom noted his rash disappeared after just 3 days of using dye-free diapers and hydrocortisone cream.
- The third patient, a 2-year-old, had persistently dry, itchy, red skin and small dry spots on his body and arms, as well as inflamed bumps around the waistband of his diaper. His parents had applied hydrocortisone and moisturizers to his skin, without much result. His rash improved after he switched to dye-free diapers.
- In the fourth case, a 3-year-old girl developed itchy areas on her bottom whenever she wore disposable training pants. Her rash went away when she wore dye-free training pants, and allergy testing showed she had sensitivities to several types of diaper dyes.
- The last child, a 13-month-old, had severe skin rashes beginning at 2 to 3 months of age that didn't improve after corticosteroids and other ointments were applied. She also had raised bumps on the skin along the waistband of her diaper. After switching to dye-free diapers, the rash in the diaper area went away.
Because all of the children who attended this clinic improved after switching to dye-free diapers, the authors of this study suspected that they had a sensitivity to the colored dyes used to make the diapers. Other studies have indicated that up to 20% of all cases of diaper rash could be caused by exposure to an allergen like dyes.
What This Means to You: Dyes may be used to color diapers or indicate wetness, but some children may develop itchy, red, painful rashes after exposure to these diaper dyes. To help prevent diaper rash, change your baby frequently, especially after he or she has had a bowel movement. If your baby often develops diaper rash, especially around the diaper openings of the leg and waist, try changing the brand of diaper you use. If your baby's rash keeps coming back or lasts for more than a few days, call your child's doctor.
Source: Lauren Alberta, BA; Susan M. Sweeney, MD; Karen Wiss, MD; Pediatrics, September 2005
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2005