How to Apply Diaper Cream

The combination of a baby’s sensitive skin with a diaper’s moist environment and limited airflow can create the perfect storm for a painful or stubborn diaper rash to erupt. While preventing a rash in the first place is always best, life has a frustrating way of interfering with your plans and leaving your baby with a red and irritated bottom.

A good diaper cream can be a powerful tool to help you soothe or prevent a rash, but how you use your product can make a big difference in how well it works.

Baby with new diaper being put on after the cream was applied

Let’s take a closer look at some general information about the types of creams you can choose from and some tips on how to prevent a diaper rash. Finally, we’ll also go over the details of how to apply diaper cream properly and answer a few common questions.

What Does the Cream Do?

A diaper cream’s basic job is to provide relief from the discomfort of a diaper rash and to form a moisture-repelling layer that either prevents a new rash from developing or helps an existing one to clear up faster. Nourishing skin conditioners help soothe and heal irritated skin, and moisture-blocking ingredients provide a barrier between your baby’s skin and irritants like urine and feces.

Regardless of whether you choose to go the disposable or cloth route, a diaper’s job is to absorb moisture and fit snugly. You’ll probably always face the threat of diaper rash as long as your child uses diapers, so it’s a good idea to keep a reliable product on hand until your child learns to use the potty.

What Types of Diaper Cream Products Are Available?

Although the phrase “diaper cream” often functions as an umbrella term, these skin-soothing products fall into three main categories. Every product ultimately aims to protect or help heal your child’s skin, but each type has specific qualities that make it the best choice in certain circumstances.

  • Cream – Creams have a water-based formula that is easy for your baby’s skin to absorb, and they are usually a good choice for soothing an existing rash.
  • Paste – Pastes contain less liquid than creams, and they usually have a much thicker consistency. While many pastes have skin-calming ingredients that can help soothe redness, a paste’s dense texture also makes it an effective moisture barrier to help prevent irritation.
  • Ointment – As an oil-based formula, your baby’s skin will not absorb an ointment as quickly as it will a water-based cream or paste. Oil also opposes water, so an ointment creates an effective, long-lasting barrier between your baby’s skin and moisture. An ointment is likely to be your best bet to prevent diaper rash, but keep in mind that these formulas are greasy and potentially messy.

Each type has its benefits and drawbacks, and you may find that having two or all three types on hand is the best plan for dealing with specific situations. For instance, a calming cream with nourishing ingredients can offer some quick relief while also encouraging your baby’s skin to heal from a painful rash. If rash prevention is your goal, a thicker paste or ointment can help seal your child’s skin against irritants for a longer timeframe.

If you use cloth diapers, you’ll need to use a little more care in what diaper cream you choose. Depending on your washing routine, you may find that oil-based ointments build up on cloth diapers over time. This layer of residual oil may cause the diaper to repel moisture and leak more often.

While your cloth diapers probably aren’t ruined from oil build-up, you may need to do an intensive washing process to remove the excess oil and restore the diaper’s original absorbency.

Additionally, many creams and pastes contain zinc oxide, a water-repelling mineral that helps protect your baby’s skin. Zinc oxide can leave stains or discoloration on some types of cloth diapers, but it shouldn’t affect the diaper’s absorbency.

How to Diaper to Avoid Diaper Rash

Diaper rashes are painful and can be hard to clear up in certain circumstances, so avoiding redness and irritation in the first place is the best plan. While it’s true that some rashes occur due to other reasons, trapped moisture and the irritating elements in urine and feces are the prime culprits in most cases.

Here are a few tips for how you can use your daily routine to prevent most diaper rashes.

Frequent Changes

Allowing irritants to have as little contact as possible with your baby’s skin is one of the best ways to prevent a rash. Plan to change your child’s diaper several times each day, and make sure to change a dirty diaper as soon as you are aware of it.

Diarrhea contains higher levels of acids or other irritants compared to normal bowel movements, so be especially vigilant for soiled diapers if your child has a stomach illness.

Allow the Skin to Dry

Damp skin is more vulnerable to irritation, so giving your child’s skin the chance to air-dry whenever possible can help prevent new rashes or help existing ones heal faster.

Try to let your child get some extra air at each diaper change, and make a special point to allow for extra time if your child already has a rash. Since diaper creams form effective moisture barriers, they can make redness or irritation worse if you apply a cream to damp skin.

After removing the old diaper and cleaning your child’s skin, take a couple of minutes to play peekaboo, tickle your baby’s tummy or lightly massage their arms and legs before putting on a clean diaper. If you’re worried about your baby urinating during their diaper-free time, you can put a waterproof mat underneath and lay a clean, dry washcloth over their body.

You may not always have the time or opportunity to leave a diaper off your child for long if you have to change them away from home or in a hurry, but giving their skin the chance to get better airflow at most changes should help prevent some rashes from developing or getting worse.

Use the Appropriate Cream

Diaper cream can be an effective preventative measure if you’re concerned that your child may develop a rash. The overnight hours and long trips are two examples of times when you likely won’t be able to change your child’s diaper right away, and using cream in instances like these can help keep rashes at bay.

If you want an affordable option to use as a regular preventative measure, petroleum jelly might be a good choice.

Diaper Cream Application

Remove the Used Diaper and Clean Your Child’s Skin Thoroughly

Change your baby’s diaper just as you normally would. Carefully wipe away all traces of excrement, and make sure to check hidden areas like the thigh creases and genital region.

Since diaper creams can be messy regardless of the formula you choose, open up a clean diaper and place it under your child before you apply the cream.

Put a Small Amount of Cream on Your Finger

Most creams spread easily, so you should only need about a dime-sized amount to cover your baby’s bottom. Using your index or middle finger usually works best for applying the cream, but you can also use your ring finger if you want to use the gentlest touch possible.

Apply the Cream to the Affected Skin

Once the skin is completely dry, spread a layer of cream over the irritated skin.

The fleshy buttock cheeks are the most common places for a rash to develop, but many children also suffer from irritation around the anus. While the genital areas of both boys and girls are less prone to developing rashes, it can still occur. It’s safe to apply any type of cream to the outer genital skin for either treatment or prevention. However, never place any cream inside your daughter’s vagina, and don’t pull back the penis foreskin if your son is uncircumcised.

Fasten the Clean Diaper on Your Child

If any cream remains on your finger, rub it onto the clean diaper or wipe it off with a wet wipe. Secure the diaper on your child as you normally would.

Clean Your Hands

After finishing the change and setting your child in a safe place, wash your hands well with warm, soapy water. Since diaper creams repel water, you may find that you need to do a bit of extra scrubbing to get all the cream washed off your skin.

Common Questions About Using Diaper Cream

Do I Need to Use Diaper Cream Every at Every Change?

As long as your child’s skin appears healthy and free of redness, you don’t need to apply diaper cream every time you change your child’s diaper. However, some parents prefer to apply a thin layer of cream with each change to prevent rashes.

Can You Put Diaper Cream on a Newborn?

Most diaper creams are safe to use if your newborn shows any signs of redness or irritation. Look for the gentlest formula possible, avoid any fragrances that may potentially irritate delicate newborn skin.

For the first several days after birth, newborns pass thick, sticky meconium bowel movements. With its tarry texture, cleaning meconium off your baby’s skin can be difficult, but applying a thin layer of cream with every change can help prevent the meconium from sticking to your child’s bottom.

Why Isn’t Diaper Cream Helping my Child’s Rash?

If your regular diaper cream fails to improve your child’s rash, you may be dealing with topical yeast overgrowth.

While a normal diaper rash tends to occur on the smooth areas of skin, a yeast rash typically appears in the thigh creases or folds in the genitalia or buttocks. In addition to redness, a yeast rash usually has a bumpy or pimply appearance.

Keeping your child’s skin clean and dry is especially important when you’re dealing with yeast, and you will likely need an antifungal or anti-inflammatory product to fully eliminate the rash. Consult your child’s healthcare provider for guidance in treating your child’s yeast diaper rash appropriately.


Putting diaper cream on your baby’s bottom seems like such a simple parenting task that it doesn’t always get the thought it deserves. However, the proper application of an appropriate diaper cream can go a long way towards helping you prevent a rash or quickly treat existing irritation. Even though you may be unsure of your application technique at first, following a simple sequence of steps at each change will have you feeling like a diaper cream pro in no time.

What has your experience with diaper creams and rashes been like? Did you use a cream, paste or ointment most often, and what did you like best about each one? Tell us in the comments!