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Adult vs baby skin

Adult vs baby skin

Most people would agree that babies have great skin. Afterall, that’s where the saying ‘smooth like a baby’s bum’ stems from. In fact, there are several fundamental differences between baby and adult skin and perhaps understanding these basic differences can help us better appreciate why our skin changes over time and how to best maintain its quality as we age. In today’s article, we will try to break down the visible, anatomical, and functional differences between an adult’s and a baby’s skin

Visible and anatomic differences

The changes in skin quality over one’s lifetime can be attributed to internal and external influences to its cellular and molecular structure. For example, it’s clear to most people that baby skin is generally smoother and more supple than adult skin. One reason is because baby skin generally contains slightly higher water content. While an infant is estimated to be roughly 75% water, adults are closer to 65% water and the elderly are closer to 55% water. You can think of baby skin like a sponge that has absorbed more water and thus feels softer and more flexible than a drier sponge. Furthermore, the collagen, other connective proteins, and fat content in the skin change as we age, which can explain some of the laxity and loss of volume that naturally occurs over time.

One other important difference between baby and adult skin is the amount of ultraviolet radiation (UV) exposure. We know that excess UV exposure reduces collagen and increase abnormal elastin in the dermis. You can imagine how changing these crucial structural proteins can distort the skin’s contour and elasticity. UV exposure can also cause uneven coloring in the form of freckles, sun spots, and dilated small blood vessels in the skin.

Finally, as we go through life, little nicks and cuts here and there can cause microscopic or macroscopic scarring thus distorting skin contour as well.


Functional differences

Okay, so we talked about how baby skin looks different, but just as important for skin care purposes is the difference in function. While the overall functions are similar in that the skin still acts as a physical barrier, radiation barrier, moisture barrier, temperature regulator, and stimulus sensor, the capacity for these functions are somewhat different.

Difference #1: Prone to external environment

Baby skin is slightly more permeable to the environment than adult skin, possibly due to having thinner stratum corneum and epidermis (the 2 outermost layers of the skin). This means that they can be more prone to environmental irritants and water loss. Furthermore, kids are more likely to have eczema than adults. It’s hard to say exactly why this is the case but it does mean that this can further disrupt their skin barriers.

What does it mean?

Moisturize the heck out of them. Regularly using moisturizers can help maintain skin water content and also act as a barrier to irritants. In fact, research has shown that regular use of moisturizers for the first 6 months of life reduces eczema incidence by 50%!

Difference #2: Sun exposure

Sun protection is important for people of all ages, but particularly in young children. This is because ultraviolet radiation damage is cumulative over time, which means that if for some reason you had sun burns when you were 1 year old, the damage they did stay with you for life. This also applies to other sources of radiation like indoor tanning (refer to our other article for a breakdown of this topic). Furthermore, children may be less aware of the potential harmful effects of excessive sun exposure as well as the symptoms of sunburns and thus are not as likely to self protect.

What does it mean?

Sun protection is extra important in children and they may need an adult’s assistance. Sunscreen, sun protective clothing, and avoiding the sun at peak hours are some important basic principles to keep in mind (check out our sunscreen article).

Difference #3: Temperature regulation

Because of their size, children tend to have a higher skin surface area to total body volume ratio. They also have less sweat glands than adults overall. This means that they can be more prone to fluctuations in ambient temperature.

What does this mean?

While this anatomical difference can mean that they can easily get cold, more often than not it’s actually the other way around. Many people tend to over-wrap their bundle of joy into literally a bundle of joy, with layers upon layers of clothes and blankets. Not only is this usually too hot for them, they usually don’t have the ability to remove the layers themselves to cool down.

Babies definitely have beautiful skin, but in order to make sure it stays healthy, it is important to know its characteristics and how to take care of it. Of course, that’s not to undermine having a good skin care routine for adults as well!

Hope you found this helpful. We will see you again in the new year!


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