In general, the difference between a barrier cream and a skin protectant is skin protectants are clear and petroleum-based and protect against chafing, while barrier creams are opaque and contain zinc, which acts as a strong barrier between skin and moisture.
For new moms, the huge selection of diaper rash creams on the market can be overwhelming. What’s the difference between a barrier cream and a skin protectant? How do you know what creams to use, and when?
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My approach as a new mom was to just get them all! Try them out, see what works. I can tell you I knew absolutely nothing in the beginning, but I learned a lot through trial and error and my pediatrician’s advice.
In those early days of motherhood, I wished that there was more information online that put in simple terms WHAT cream to use, and WHEN. Why should I get this cream over this cream, and when should I use this cream vs. this cream?
Having a baby who was extremely prone to diaper rash, I learned A LOT about diaper rash creams.
Let’s break it down so that you can gain a deeper understand of diaper rash creams, the different kinds, and when to use which kind.
Two Basic Types
There are two basic types of diaper rash creams: skin protectants and barrier creams.
Skin protectants are exactly what they sound like–they protect the skin.
Skin protectants protect skin from environmental factors, from coming into contact with bacteria, and protect against friction and chafing.
They are typically petroleum-based, are clear and they lock moisture in.
Skin protectants allow the skin to heal while shielding it from bacteria and friction.
Common skin protectant products:
- A & D
Barrier creams act as just that–a barrier for the skin.
Barrier creams act as a tough barrier between skin and harsh environmental factors like diaper contents.
They protect the skin against moisture. Barrier creams contain zinc, which serves as a strong barrier against harsh substances like diaper contents, epsecially poop.
In general, barrier creams contain zinc and are opaque in color, typically white.
Common barrier cream products:
- Boudreau’s Butt Paste
- Aquaphor 3 in 1 Healing Cream
- Triple Paste
When to Use Each
Figuring out when to use each of these types is a hallmark struggle of new motherhood.
Let me break it down:
- Start with a skin protectant.
- Skin protectants are the most gentle.
- Use a skin protectant if your little one is not prone to rash. It will help prevent a rash from developing.
- For mild-moderate rashes, use a barrier cream.
- The zinc acts as a tough barrier between skin and irritants.
- It will prevent the rash from getting worse and allow it to heal.
- Use both.
- For severe rashes, use both.
- For babies who are extra sensitive and prone to rash, use both.
- Start with the skin protectant and use a thick layer of barrier cream on top. This gives an added layer of protection.
Note: Lay it on THICK. Pediatricians recommend lathering it on like you’re icing a cake.
For tips on treating diaper rash, check out How to Treat Frequent Diaper Rash.
Having tested out just about every major brand, I recommend two products:
Specifically, Aquaphor Baby Healing Ointment Advanced Therapy.
The main difference that I’ve found between Aquaphor and Vaseline is the consistency.
- Aquaphor is thicker
- This makes it easier to spread a barrier cream on top if needed.
- I’ve found it’s pretty difficult to spread a barrier cream on top of Vaseline.
- Since it’s not as thick, it tends to get mixed up with the barrier cream, and it becomes very difficult to add a second layer.
- Because it’s thicker, it tends to be effective for longer.
Aquaphor also makes their version of a barrier cream containing zinc, that they call their 3-in-1 Diaper Rash Cream.
I personally don’t find this as affective as using a skin protectant and barrier cream separately, because the consistency is much thinner. However, it makes for a good travel diaper rash cream since it can save you a little time applying both.
For more on diaper rash cream brands, check out this article by Healthline.
Pinxav is my all-time favorite barrier cream.
Pinxav is THE THICKEST barrier cream. It does the best job at protecting skin against poop.
Pinxav also has ingredients that are healing and soothing.
Honestly, the reviews speak for themselves. This is a pricier product than more common brands, but it’s been around since 1927 and its users LOVE it.
What I like more about Pinxav vs. Buttpaste is the consistency. Buttpaste works okay, but has a very greasy texture and tends to almost separate after a bit with the greasiness.
I’m able to leave the lid off the Pinxav all day and the consistency doesn’t change. It doesn’t dry out, it just stays the way it is, super thick. For more on Pinxav, check out this in-depth review.
Get the big size (the tub) instead of the tube. It’s so thick that it doesn’t come out of the tube well.
What if creams aren’t working?
If you’ve been trying everything, using the right creams and everything and the diaper rash just won’t go away, it’s time to see the pediatrician.
Often this means the rash is a yeast infection and will need to be treated differently (with an antifungal).
If you suspect the diaper rash might be yeast or something else, never hesitate to make an appointment with the pediatrician.
If baby’s rash is REALLY BAD (blistering and yeast, for example), ask your doctor about a compound cream prescription.
Occasionally, there may be more than one issue you need to tackle with severe diaper rash. A compound cream contains multiple ingredients that fight the rash from different angles. Ask your doctor about a prescription for this, or if they recommend making it at home.
For example, when my daughter had a severe yeast infection that blistered, we were prescribed a compound cream that consisted of:
- nyastin (antifungal)
- hydrocortisone (to ease pain and itching)
- triple antibiotic ointment (to protect against infection and promote healing)
- barrier cream
If your little one frequently gets REALLY bad diaper rashes that won’t go away or keep coming back, you may want to ask for a referral to see a dermatologist.
Recently, my almost two-year-old has been getting a sever diaper rash that even the compound cream isn’t fixing, and that’s with doing ALL the things to prevent and treat.
After being refferred to a dermatologist, we were prescribed a strong hydrocortizone cream that quickly cleared it up. That’s just my case, but you may also find a quick solution by seing a specialist if your little one is going through something similar.
Diaper rash creams are confusing. However, by breaking them down into two types, they’re much easier to understand. The main difference between skin protectants and barrier creams is that barrier creams contain zinc and serve as an extra layer of protection against pee and poop.
For more tips on treating diaper rash, check out How to Treat Frequent Diaper Rash.
Best of luck!
13 Best Diaper Rash Creams. August 19, 2022. Medically reviewed by Carissa Stephens, R.N., CCRN, CPN. https://www.healthline.com/health/childrens-health/best-diaper-rash-creams