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Diaper Dermatitis

  • Author: Ruchir Agrawal, MD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
Updated: Nov 17, 2015


Diaper dermatitis is caused by overhydration of the skin, maceration, prolonged contact with urine and feces, retained diaper soaps, and topical preparations and is a prototypical example of irritant contact dermatitis. Signs and symptoms are restricted in most individuals to the area covered by diapers.[1, 2]

The photograph below depicts a 3-week-old female neonate with diaper rash.

A 3-week-old female infant with diaper rash. Satel A 3-week-old female infant with diaper rash. Satellite lesions can be observed. The patient was diagnosed clinically with candidal dermatitis and successfully treated with nystatin ointment.


Diaper rash affects the areas within the confines of the diaper. Increased wetness in the diaper area makes the skin more susceptible to damage by physical, chemical, and enzymatic mechanisms. Wet skin increases the penetration of irritant substances. Superhydration urease enzyme found in the stratum corneum liberates ammonia from cutaneous bacteria. Urease has a mild irritant effect on nonintact skin. Lipases and proteases in feces mix with urine on nonintact skin and cause an alkaline surface pH, adding to the irritation. (Feces in breastfed infants have a lower pH, and breastfed infants are less susceptible to diaper dermatitis.) The bile salts in the stools enhance the activity of fecal enzymes, adding to the effect.

Candida albicans has been identified as another contributing factor to diaper dermatitis; infection often occurs after 48-72 hours of active eruption. It is isolated from the perineal area in as many as 92% of children with diaper dermatitis. Other microbial agents have been isolated less frequently, perhaps more as a result of secondary infections.




No racial difference is observed.


No sexual difference is noted.


Diaper dermatitis commonly affects infants, with peak incidence occurring when the individual is aged 9-12 months. One study determined that at any given time, diaper dermatitis is prevalent in 7-35% of the infant population.[3]

Diaper dermatitis can affect persons of any age who wear diapers, in particular, elderly people.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Ruchir Agrawal, MD Chief, Allergy and Immunology, Aurora Sheboygan Clinic

Ruchir Agrawal, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Vijay Sammeta, MD Medical Information Services, Adventis Pharmaceutical

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Isabelle Thomas, MD Associate Professor, Department of Dermatology, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, New Jersey Medical School; Chief of Dermatology Service, Veterans Affairs Medical Center of East Orange

Isabelle Thomas, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, Sigma Xi

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH Professor and Head of Dermatology, Professor of Pathology, Pediatrics, Medicine, and Preventive Medicine and Community Health, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School; Visiting Professor, Rutgers University School of Public Affairs and Administration

Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, New York Academy of Medicine, American Academy of Dermatology, American College of Physicians, Sigma Xi

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Dirk M Elston, MD Professor and Chairman, Department of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery, Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine

Dirk M Elston, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Kevin P Connelly, DO Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Division of General Pediatrics and Emergency Care, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine; Medical Director, Paws for Health Pet Visitation Program of the Richmond SPCA; Pediatric Emergency Physician, Emergency Consultants Inc, Chippenham Medical Center

Kevin P Connelly, DO is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Osteopathic Pediatricians, American Osteopathic Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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A 3-week-old female infant with diaper rash. Satellite lesions can be observed. The patient was diagnosed clinically with candidal dermatitis and successfully treated with nystatin ointment.
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