If you’re like me, as a new mom, you agonized over EVERY PRODUCT THAT WOULD TOUCH YOUR BABY, spending about half your brain cells (the ones baby wasn’t sucking into its own orbit for personal use – thanks, baby) trying to find safe diaper cream and baby powder.
These are the baby basics, after all, second only to which diapers you’ll use. Right?
(Speaking of diapers, check out my post on the possible downside of cloth diapers here.)
So what are the safest options for diaper cream and baby powder?
I’ll get to that. But first, let’s stir up some controversy about (a) common ingredient(s) in many natural diaper cream and balm options, especially the homemade options on the web. Essential oils.
I personally don’t recommend using any essential oil on a newborn or young infant’s skin without clearance from your aromatherapy professional.
Even lavender. Even tea tree oil.
And it’s NOT because I think those EOs are dangerous. They’re generally perfectly safe when used properly, and if you’re using them now and they’re working for you, don’t feel like you need to run screaming in the other direction.
The fact is, though, that they’re highly concentrated active plant constituents. They’re not benign. As many an EO rep will tell you (wink), they’re “therapeutic.” They’re powerful. Highly concentrated. Medicinal, even. They’re not remotely neutral. And in my opinion, that kind of power is overkill on a young baby with healthy skin.
Now that our kiddo is older, we use EOs for lots of things. But looking back, I wish, when it came to the diaper area, we’d just kept it really darn simple and neutral while we learned what worked best for baby.
Stick to the basics, as Coach Kilmer would say.
Gentle hydrosols and powdered herbs are fine in my book. But with the extreme – extreme – concentration of plant constituents in essential oils, even the most basic, multipurpose ones, I’m saying that topically, I wish I’d used them only when called for rather than agonizing about which ones I needed in my daily, sometimes multiple-times-daily diaper cream.
And since I’m a BIG advocate of naked time, I don’t want to promote using anything with residue that might sting baby’s eyes or end up in baby’s mouth when they’re getting grabby with themselves during diaper-free time (and we all know that happens).
Plus, baby’s skin is perfectly perfect. It’s learning to react to its environment. All it needs is a basic, nourishing barrier during diaper time, and when appropriate, some gentle, whole powdered herbs and light hydrosols.
This poses a dilemma, though, since so many creams and balms have added EOs, especially the homemade recipes.
What’s the point of a diaper cream if it’s so neutral and basic?
The purpose of a diaper cream is generally, quite simply, to provide a safe, physical barrier between the skin and the diaper’s contents using zinc.
I personally feel that most diaper-wearing babies need that extra barrier, at least near the most sensitive spots. Part of what informs my opinion is that naked time, not diapering, is the evolutionary norm – we aren’t meant to sit in our own excrement for any length of time.
I personally believe that a barrier is called for in most circumstances, including cloth diapering, even when irritation isn’t evident (wicking liners are available for cloth diapers, although they add more bulk).
A simple zinc barrier and lots of naked time, in fact, might eliminate the need for calming and bacteria-killing EOs in the first place.
While several cloth diaper resources state that zinc-based cream is only necessary when you’re using disposables, since ‘sposies don’t allow the skin to breathe, making a barrier more necessary, I never found that to be the case. In fact, my daughter’s skin seemed to get more irritated with the lesser wicking power of cloth diapers – even when we used liners (which, unfortunately, just added more bulk).
But, since I know I’ve got folks looking for both zinc-full and zinc-free options, I’ve listed my favorite in both categories.
Summary: my favorite creams/balms are EO free, simple, neutral, and skin-conditioning. They’ve got everything we need and nothing we don’t.
When it comes to powders, which are usually only needed in specific circumstances, I choose non-talc, non-cornstarch powders and I apply them so that they aren’t inhaled by baby.
There are likely other great options out there (post ’em in the comments!), but who has time to search more when you’ve found one that meets your needs?
My favorite safe diaper creams
Non-zinc diaper cream (balm):
I love Primally Pure’s Balm. It’s got tallow, emu oil (both amazing and nutrient-rich), plus it’s infused with calendula (not essential oil) and marshmallow root.
Part of Primally Pure’s mission is to make multi-purpose, natural, nurturing products that work for a variety of uses. This balm also works amazingly on any skin irritation, and it’s a perfect nipple balm that doesn’t need to be wiped off before nursing (as long as you don’t double-dip after diapering).
This is about as complex as it needs to get on baby’s skin.
Zinc-based diaper cream:
Unfortunately, natural-leaning zinc-based creams (the ones that provide that true barrier between skin and the diaper’s contents) often lack a few basic ingredients to help keep the zinc suspended – so they basically slide off almost immediately.
Beautycounter’s NEW Calming Diaper Rash Cream is exactly what I was desperately looking for last year, when all I wanted was a basic zinc-based cream but all I could find were “natural” options stacked with EOs, either without zinc or with zinc that didn’t stay put; or “drugstore” options that also contained petroleum derivatives and preservatives.
The Calming Diaper Rash Cream is simple, straightforward, and uses my favorites – beeswax and shea butter – to nourish baby’s skin.
Tapioca starch helps wick moisture away, and the emulsion doesn’t separate like many zinc-based creams based on natural ingredients (probably thanks to the tapioca and silica, which also scores a “green” rating with the EWG).
(I’m also using the Beautycounter diaper bag right now as a multi-purpose toddler-maintenance-station-slash-work-laptop-bag. LOVE it.)
My favorite safe baby powder
Hands-down, I love the Primally Pure Baby Powder. It’s a blend of gentle clay, arrowroot, and powdered herbs, which is the most “intense” an herbal exposure a baby needs. (Why do I feel the need to put a heart emoji any time I talk about babies?)
It’s safe for cloth diapers as well as disposable.
Powder is really only necessary, in my opinion, when baby’s going to be in one diaper for an extended period, or when there’s some irritation you’re working on healing. Since all powders carry some inhalation risk, I prefer to put the powder in baby’s diaper, away from baby’s mouth and nose, rather than applying it directly, or to apply with a cotton ball pressed on to baby’s skin.
By the way, Primally Pure’s Baby Kit makes such a beautiful shower gift for the natural mama; Beautycounter’s Welcome Baby Set is great too.
Honorable mention: cloth wipes and Water Wipes
Wondering about wipes? We use these flannel wipes sprayed with water, or Water Wipes brand in a pinch or for days at Parents’ Day Out. While there’s some controversy about grapefruit seed extract, the preservative in the Water Wipes, I much prefer the water + GSE to the many ingredients in both conventional and “natural” wipes that all seemed to irritate my baby’s skin (including Honest Co. and 7th Gen).
Baby’s skin is so perfect all by itself. It doesn’t need an elaborate skincare routine to stay that way.
I didn’t (and don’t) bathe my baby much, because I didn’t want to wash off her natural oils and bacteria unless I really needed to; and looking back, keeping the skincare much more simple – not putting anything on her skin that didn’t need to be there – would have been a natural extension of that.
I hope this helps narrow your search, parents! Feel free to leave your favorites in the comments.
Thanks for reading, and happy diapering (and naked-timing)!