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The art of caring for delicate and sensitive skin



The Society of Cosmetic Chemists hosted a virtual baby care seminar on 24 May 2023. Various industry experts were featured on the programme to discuss trends and industry developments in this category.

Clean beauty and the well-being cosmetic movements have become driving forces in the category of care products for babies and mothers-to-be. Baby care claims are no longer limited to hydrating or repairing but are setting new objectives based on the criteria of health, safety, naturality and emotional well-being.

According to global industry research, 69% of consumers with children between the ages of 0 and 4 state that ‘natural’ and ‘synthetic free’ claims have become important to them. With these consumer trends in mind, Coschem’s baby care seminar included a variety of presentations by industry experts on safe and healthy ingredients that resonate with parents, ingredients that soothe and protect sensitive skin, and ways in which brands in this category can build trust with parents.

The sun and baby’s skin

Hanlie Burger of SunSkin spoke about how baby’s skin develops in the womb during pregnancy from five weeks to 19 weeks. She also mentioned that a baby’s skin is thin and sensitive, and contains very little melanin. One week after birth, a baby’s vitamin D level is relative to the mother’s during pregnancy. It is important to note that babies younger than six months should not be exposed to sunlight as their melanocytes are not yet completely developed.

People receive an average of 85% of their lifetime’s sun exposure before the age of 18. Studies have shown that sunburn or over exposure to sun (UV) as a child multiplies the risk of developing skin cancer later in life. UVB rays cause burning whilst UVA rays damage DNA, which is why UVA rays are known as ageing rays. The intensity of UVA is the same all year round, whilst UVB rays are more intense during summer. This make it important to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect the skin against both types of rays. The sunscreen should also be reapplied after every two hours depending on the activity.

Baby’s skin is more susceptible to burning, even during brief sun exposure. It is also prone to overheating and eye damage as a baby’s eyes still lacks melanin. Sunlight suppresses the skin’s immune system and can cause genetic changes in the skin. Hanlie also reminded everyone that it’s important to wear protective clothing and a wide brim hat for additional protection against the sun.

Clean skin care for babies

Midwife and nurse Snr Frane Clarke from Bloomsy presented a short talk on clean beauty in baby care from a midwife’s perspective.

According to an American study, 232 synthetic chemicals were found in the umbilical cord blood samples of babies. An earlier study done in 2004 found that 287 chemicals were detected in cord blood, including 209 which had never been detected before. Of these, 180 were found to be carcinogenic, 217 were found to be toxic to the brain and nervous system and 208 of the chemical samples were found to cause birth defects or abnormal development. The samples included Tetrabromobisphenol A from synthetic fragrances used in common cosmetics and detergents.

Frane believes these findings are why many consumers are more focused on what products they use on their bodies and what foods they eat. Her focus was to look at what new parents and mommies look for in baby skin care products. She mentioned that parents are looking for safe ingredients. They read labels and choose products free of parabens, dyes and phthalates. They are also more knowledgeable of organic, natural or hypoallergenic terminology. Parents are opting for products formulated with ingredient that have the least possible risk of allergic reactions. They opt for fragrance and colourant free products and products that are clean, safe and simple. Cruelty free labels also resonate with parents as studies found that new launches of cruelty free and vegan cosmetics represented a 175% increase from July 2013 to June 2018.*

Solutions for sensitive skin

Robyn Brown of Botanichem discussed the differences between baby and adult skin types.

Interestingly a baby’s skin has lower sebum content compared to adult skin due to hormones only kicking in at puberty. It also has a thinner epidermis and smaller keratinocytes as well as higher TEWL when compared to adult skin. As a result of this baby skin has insufficient barrier function and therefore an imperfect immune system. Infant skin has a high permeability and poor defence capability. It is also sensitive to external irritants causing various skin problems, including but not limited to eczema, millia, diaper rash, exfoliation and urticaria.

Eczema makes up about 32% of all complaints in baby care and 95% of cases show up on the face and head, followed by chest and belly and then other areas of the skin. Robyn showed that by treating baby skin with a botanical complex – one could reduce the eczema symptoms quite drastically and by using plant sterols one could reinforce the baby skin’s barrier and also keep the balance of good bacteria on the skin in balance while reducing pathogenic bacteria on the skin.

Ingredient selection for baby care

Babies have particularly delicate skin and for this reason, care needs to be taken when choosing the right ingredients for a baby formulations. Jacques Strydom of Natchem discussed trends in baby care, saying they are motivated by parent’s growing level of education on cosmetic ingredients. This is putting pressure on raw material manufacturers to launch new products that conform to consumer demand.

Parents are increasingly seeking baby care products that are free from harmful or harsh chemicals, allergenic fragrances and artificial additives. Plant-based and organic formulations are perceived as gentler on the baby’s delicate skin and more environmentally friendly, which are buzz words that parents look out for on baby care product labels.

Jacques recommended using mild surfactants in baby formulations and to avoid essential oils for children under the age of seven years old. When using a fragrance, make sure it is as low as possible in allergens (at least low enough not to be declared on the INCI listing). Current trends indicate that new fragrance launches in baby care contain notes that open with a fruity scent, have floral notes at the core and are rounded off with musky and woody tones at the base.

Cosmetic regulations on baby products

The baby regulatory riddle presented by Nadia Rashid of CTFA covered the regulatory framework within which South Africa operates in and how baby products fit into the wider scheme of things. Beginning with categorising baby products, then moving into product types and target groups, Nadia took a deep dive into ingredient choices and how the levels of ingredients are chosen based on safety, industry standards, contents of the Draft Regulations and international practices.

She concluded with the major factors that need to be considered when designing a product in terms of regulatory practice, marketing, labelling and safety and how regulations are a group effort within a company.

Infant’s skin and care needs

Rukaya Mansoor of SKOON.Skincare shared a comprehensive overview of product types, considerations and key ingredients for baby care. Infant skin and adult skin have several physiological and structural differences which affect the functionality of infant skin. It is also drier and more sensitive.

It is important to ensure a baby’s skin receives the best possible care for the development of a healthy skin.

As a formulator there are a variety of developmental considerations when designing various types of baby products. Rukaya looked at product types, considerations and key ingredients for infant baby care formulations such as baby washes, moisturisers, creams, and wipes. She also explored formulation guidelines and alternatives for a more natural approach towards infant skin care.

This article was originally published in SA Pharmaceutical & Cosmetic Review, July 2023.