The Best Cruelty-Free Diaper Rash Products
New parents can often feel like they haven’t a friend in the world.
Even when they’re surrounded by supportive partners, family, friends, nannies—there is still an isolation bubble encircling parents and baby as they navigate the thrilling, terrifying, new, and oh-so messy world of tiny humans. Did I mention messy?
Let’s be honest, babies are equally as gross as they are cute. There’s the spitting up—not to be confused with the actual vomit or the feeding disasters. There’s the screaming at all hours of the day and night and whatever time that is between the two where they scream the most. And, of course, there are the diapers. So. Many. Diapers.
“On average, newborns go through about eight-12 diapers per day,” says Parents.com. But the site cautions that each infant is different and some may need more or fewer changes than others. Given that most children stay in some form of diapers—pull-ups count!—until they’re three, averaged to ten diapers a day, you’re in for nearly 11,000 diaper changes per child. (Go pour 11,000 a glass of wine, I’ll wait.)
I made a human in my body in 2013, and in the lead-up to her birth (another one for the gross column), I explored the differences between cloth and disposable diapers. (You can read all about it here.) I wanted to make the most environmentally friendly choice, but I also wanted the safest and healthiest option for my daughter. Turns out, there’s no simple answer.
Did cloth diapers cause more diaper rash or did the disposable? And what about the chemicals? Disposable diapers are made with gels and other irritants that can burn skin, but detergents and bleaches used to clean cloth diapers can also be irritating. They both also have impacts on the planet that seem difficult to justify in this age of climate crises. But, alas, we all want someone to gleefully pad through the house on Christmas morning, call us their heroes in front of their entire Kindergarten class, and, alas, help us change our diapers when we’re old and frail, right? Peopling is sticky business, to say the least—both figuratively and literally.
But for now, let’s get on to the literal stickiness, and how to protect your baby’s delicate skin with diaper rash creams.
What Is Diaper Rash?
We hear about it a lot, but what exactly is diaper rash? In short, it’s a form of dermatitis caused by sitting in wet, dirty diapers 24 hours a day. Frequent changing doesn’t mean you’ll help your child avoid diaper rash, either. That’s because diapers aren’t like underwear. While some disposable diapers lock away moisture, they’re not moisture-wicking like underwear. They’re not breathable by design, and that means body heat, as well as all the diaper contents themselves, can create an environment that irritates the skin.
Diaper rash, in most cases, isn’t severe and will come and go for most babies. But it can be irritating and uncomfortable. And, if left untreated, can lead to more severe patches of irritation, and even infection.
Which Diapers Are Best to Avoid Diaper Rash?
After all of my research into diapers, we ended up using a combination. In those first few days, our daughter was too small for bulky cloth diapers, so we used the newborn disposable option the hospital sent us home with. I recommend this as most everyone is so exhausted from the birth that being able to just change, toss, and go back to bed was a real savior. But after the first week or so, we switched to cloth diapers when at home, via a service that used non-chlorine bleach and natural detergents. But we also used the disposable ones when out and about.
In my research and own personal experience, babies get diaper rash, no matter what you put them in. Unless you’re on the elimination communication bandwagon and are willing to clean up human waste in every corner of your house (and your lap!), you’re going to run into diaper rash quite often. And, when those hot summer days come around, which they certainly will at some point while you’re still diapering, you may see an increase in the rash.
According to The New York Times’ Wirecutter, both cloth and disposable can lead to diaper rash, “but disposable diapers typically keep babies drier and better prevent the common problem of diaper rash caused by moisture.” This was our finding, too, but we were steadfast with the cloth diapers for the first 18 months. (If your baby’s got a rash that doesn’t look like it’s coming from the diaper, or it’s outside of the diaper area, be sure to talk with your baby’s pediatrician.)
What’s In Diaper Rash Products?
It’s easy to underestimate how sensitive baby skin can be. Maybe it’s the chubbiness that makes them appear hardy, but be warned, they can pufferfish on you for simply being in the same room with polyester or a peanut. Being little is complicated stuff.
So, when it comes to diaper rash products, there’s the risk that the condition you’re aiming to soothe can actually become exacerbated by the treatment itself, especially when using synthetic products with irritating ingredients. For this reason, natural and cruelty-free diaper rash products are your best bet.
Most diaper rash products rely on zinc oxide—the same stuff in sunscreen. Best selling products include A + D, Balmex, Desitin, Triple Paste, and Lotrimin (for yeast infections). Their ingredients lists are all fairly similar; besides zinc oxide, best-seller Desitin, for example, includes some controversial ingredients like mineral oil and petrolatum, which are byproducts of the petroleum industry. They can clog pores, making the rash worse, and have been linked to human health risks including cancer.
Potassium Hydroxide is a paraben linked to allergic reactions, reproductive toxicity, and an increased risk of certain cancers, according to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database.
Phenoxyethanol can have adverse effects on the central and peripheral nervous systems.
Other common ingredients in diaper rash creams include chemical fragrances. Companies do not have to disclose what’s in a fragrance, which typically contains phthalates to extend the scent life of the product. These can be irritating and hormone-disrupting. Sodium borate/boric acid can irritate the skin; Benzyl Benzoate / Benzyl Salicylate has been linked with endocrine disruption.
When you put these chemicals through the lens of 11,000 diapers, choosing a safer option with cleaner ingredients becomes an easy choice.
Animal Products, Animal Testing In Diaper Rash Products
A number of popular diaper rash products contain animal ingredients. Beeswax and lanolin are two of the most common ingredients as they both contain moisturizing properties that can help soothe irritated skin. But you and your baby have good reasons to avoid these. And good alternatives. But first, the reasons.
Let’s start with beeswax: We need bees. At least one-third of the fruits and veggies you’re going to soon be pureeing up so your baby can hurl spoonfuls of them back at your face, exist because of the free pollination done by bees. Just honey bees alone pollinate 80 percent of all flowering plants, including more than 130 species of fruits and vegetables, making up about 35 percent of the food we eat. Wax is crucial to honey bee colonies. It’s how they build, and when it’s taken away, it can put pressure on the hive and the hive workers. Even agriculture practices that claim to be beneficial to bees present risks: extracting anything from hives creates stress and casualties.
Lanolin—the oil from sheep’s wool—is another ingredient found in a number of rash products. How’s this for irony, though: the sheep raised for their precious, oily wool, often have the excess skin around their hindquarters sheared off—a practice called mulesing—that’s intended to prevent flystrike. This is done without an anesthetic and can lead to infections and pain so severe, a diaper rash product wouldn’t come close to helping. The practice is so controversial, it was recently banned in New Zealand, one of the top wool-producing countries. In places where mulesing isn’t done, sheep can be sprayed with toxic pesticides in order to ward off insects. These pesticides can concentrate in the sheep’s lanolin.
A number of mainstream products, like Desitin, also come with another type of animal cruelty: animal testing. Desitin, for example, is a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, which regularly conducts animal testing on a wide array of its products. These tests are done to ensure safety and efficacy, but they often miss the mark. Animal bodies and human bodies vary greatly, and a growing body of research suggests animal testing is not an effective way to measure safety for humans.
The Best Cruelty-Free Diaper Rash Products
Whether you’re working on your baby shower wish list or in the throes of a diaper rash episode, these vegan and cruelty-free diaper rash products are the easiest on baby bums and the planet.
Maty's Diaper Rash Ointment
Maty’s makes a cruelty-free and vegan diaper rash balm that’s also free from fragrances, petroleum jelly, parabens, sulfates, mineral oils, and gluten. The only ingredient used that’s not organic is the zinc oxide.
Organic olive oil, organic coconut oil, organic castor oil, organic beeswax, organic aloe extract, organic jojoba oil, zinc oxide, organic frankincense essential oil, organic lavender essential oil, calendula 3X HPUS
Green Goo Diaper Rash Balm
Green Goo makes a sweet-smelling and super clean diaper rash balm. It’s free from petroleum, chemical fragrances, and parabens. It’s organic, too, minus the vitamin E oil and lavender. Note it does contain essential oils, which can be irritating to some very sensitive tushies.
Achillea Millefolium (Yarrow) Extract, *Calendula Officinalis (Calendula) Flower Oil, *Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower, *Symphytum Officinale (Comfrey) Leaf Powder.
Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, *Cera Alba (Beeswax), *Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, *Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil.
Pipette Diaper Rash Cream
Pipette Diaper Rash Cream is vegan, hypoallergenic, and free of synthetic fragrances. Pipette is also EWG Verified™ and Leaping Bunny Certified. The smoothing, fragrant balm protects and seals out wetness while offering relief from chafing.
Zinc Oxide 14%
Glycerin, Squalane, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Jojoba Esters, Euterpe Oleracea (Açaí Berry) Sterols, Sorbitan Olivate, Polyglyceryl-2 Dipolyhydroxystearate,
Linoleic Acid, Oleic Acid, Linolenic Acid, Bisabolol, Tocopherol (Vitamin E),
1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol
Hello Bello Diaper Rash Cream
Actress Kristen Bell’s Hello Bello brand offers one of the cleanest and most affordable vegan and cruelty-free diaper rash creams available. Its products are sold at Walmart, and the diaper cream is zinc oxide based, with organic ingredients including tamanu and coconut oil.
Ingredients: Active Ingredients: Zinc Oxide (40.0 %).
Inactive Ingredients: Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil (Organic Ingredient), Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil (Organic), Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter (Organic), Zea Mays (Corn) Starch (Organic Ingredient), Hydrogenated Palm Oil (RSPO Certified), Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter (RSPO Certified), Cetyl Palmitate (RSPO Certified), Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil (Certified Organic), Calophyllum Inophyllum Seed Oil (Organic), Tocopherol
Baby Everyday All-Purpose Balm
This balm is gently formulated to provide comfort, moisturize and protect baby’s delicate skin. Featuring USDA-certified organic ingredients to help soothe and heal irritated and dry skin, this formula is easily available at Target stores nationwide.
Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil*, Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax*, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter*, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil*, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter*, Maranta Arundinacea Root Powder (Arrowroot)* Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Extract*, Althaea Officinalis Root Extract (Marshmallow)*, Chenopodium Quinoa Seed Extract (Quinoa)* Lactobacillus Ferment.
Jill Ettinger is an LA-based writer and editor focused on vegan and cruelty-free living.