5 Common Rashes That Can Show Up on Baby's Legs

Does your baby have an itchy rash on their legs? Get the inside scoop on what could cause the red bumps or scales—and how to treat them.

Your baby's adorable little legs can be magnets for marks, rashes, and other alarming changes. But don't fret: Many of those little bumps and breakouts go away on their own, rarely bother your baby, and most aren't serious at all. Learn the ins and outs of some common baby rashes, so you can have a leg up on what's going on with those adorable little gams.

Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)

Up to 20% of young kids develop atopic dermatitis (aka eczema), which causes dry, cracked skin and can become a big red rashy mess. You can blame a defect in a protein called filaggrin, which normally protects skin and helps it retain moisture and keep out irritants. When filaggrin is deficient, water easily evaporates from the skin, resulting in dryness and cracks, allowing outside irritants to settle in and wreak rashy havoc.

Common eczema triggers include wool, heat, or the chemicals in soaps, fragrances, lotions, and detergents. It usually starts in infancy, with more than half of people developing symptoms in the first year of life and most of the rest developing symptoms before age 5.

What it looks like

Atopic dermatitis creates pink or red patches of dry skin that are likely to scale and ooze. Eczema patches are also extremely itchy—if it doesn't itch, it isn't eczema.

Where it shows up

The most common location for eczema is behind the knees, although it can occur anywhere. Look for similar skin changes on the face, scalp, and arm creases.

How to treat it

At bath time, keep it short, warm (not hot), and sweet. Use mild non-soap cleansers with a neutral pH. Pat, don't rub, the baby dry with a towel, and within minutes of bathing, lube them up with a fragrance-free ointment or cream (Aquaphor works wonders). If the skin is inflamed, try putting a cup of oats in the water to soothe irritation. Always remember to avoid triggers such as fragranced products, wool, and overheating.

Does your baby have a severe eczema flare-up? Latanya Benjamin, M.D., clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Stanford University, recommends gentle, yet strong enough topical corticosteroids for the active (red, itchy, rough) patches. "It's best to simultaneously treat the itch. Usually, this is accomplished with an oral antihistamine." Don't be surprised if your doctor suggests bleach baths to reduce the risk of any infection.

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Heat Rash (Miliaria)

Miliaria occurs in babies when their developing sweat glands get clogged. It's a very common condition, especially in hot, humid weather or with over-bundling in the first few weeks of life.

What it looks like

Miliaria presents as tiny pink or clear bumps that can sometimes look like minute blisters.

Where it shows up

You'll find heat rash in sweaty spots, such as the folds of your baby's thighs, or the top of the leg under the diaper area. Other prime spots include the neck, chest, and face (typically from being pressed up to the breast during nursing).

How to treat it

The key is keeping the area cool—in the environment, clothing, and baths. Lightweight, breathable, cotton onesies alone can melt away miliaria. In stubborn situations, topical cortisone or antihistamine may help promote healing.

Yeast Infection (Candidiasis)

Candidiasis is a common yeast infection in babies up to 15 months old. It usually develops in warm moist areas of the skin (such as under the diaper). Babies taking antibiotics and breastfed babies whose nursing parents are on antibiotics are also more susceptible to these infections because antibiotics kill the good bacteria in the body that keep yeast in check.

What it looks like

You'll see very red patches, with small satellite papules or pustules a little further away from the main area.

Where it shows up

The top of the thigh near the diaper area is the most common place to see a yeast infection. The bottom is almost always affected as well.

How to treat it

Dr. Benjamin recommends an antifungal yeast cream twice a day, especially in the thigh creases. "Use a good barrier cream containing zinc oxide and layer it on frequently like frosting a cake at each diaper change," says Dr. Benjamin. "You should not be able to see any red skin throughout the day."

Also, check your baby's bottom often, clean it thoroughly with changes, and give the area a chance to dry completely before putting on another diaper. Put diapers on with a little give so that air can circulate around the skin.

Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is caused by a pox virus. It sounds scary but breathe easy: Molluscum has no harmful consequences except for cosmetic skin aggravation and the potential for spread to other family members. This generally isn't an issue affecting newborn skin—it's more likely to affect those over the age of 1.

What it looks like

You'll see painless, skin-toned, pink, or pearly bumps which may have a visible core or dell in the center. Usually, they hang in a gang, so you'll see many bumps clumped together.

Where it shows up

Molluscum can occur anywhere on the legs (or body), but they like to stay cozy in warm, moist creases, especially behind the knees.

How to treat it

Your child's immune system will naturally get rid of molluscum—though it may take many months. If you want to expedite the process, a health care provider can prescribe some oral medications or topical creams that help stimulate the skin's immune response, or they may even use topical, engineered beetle juice to speed things along. (It's painless, and yes, it's beetle juice!)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other treatment options that can be done by a dermatologist include freezing off the lesions with liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy), laser therapy, or piercing and scrapping off the bumps (curettage). However, these approaches are not typically done with young children as they can be painful and cause scarring.

Don't forget that it's contagious, so be especially careful during bath or swim time, and make sure to wash hands frequently and use separate towels and sheets for kids who have the infection to avoid spreading it.

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

Hand, foot, and mouth disease—also known as coxsackie virus—causes a distinct rash. Babies are most likely to get infected during the spring and summer.

What it looks like

You'll see sore bumps sitting on the inflamed, pink surrounding skin. If your baby is suddenly resisting eating, check for bumps in their mouth.

Where it shows up

The name says it all: The rash is known for appearing on the hands, feet, and mouth. But also look for lesions on the hands, upper legs, and buttocks.

How to treat it

There's no treatment for hand, foot, and mouth disease other than managing the symptoms by keeping the fever down and ensuring your little one eats and drinks well. (Those mouth sores can make mealtime rough.) Always check with a doctor about additional care.

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