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Are disposable diapers more likely than cloth diapers to cause diaper rash?

Despite common beliefs and concerns, a Cochrane review can’t draw definitive conclusions either way regarding nappy type and diaper rash.

This article was first published in The Skeptical Inquirer.

Cloth diapers may offer a more environmentally friendly option for baby’s bottoms, but are they a risk factor for diaper rash? Common knowledge says so, the New York Times agrees, but what about the science?

The logic behind this claim centers around moisture. Namely, moisture from urine and feces gets trapped against the skin rather than absorbed and causes irritant diaper dermatitis.

It certainly makes sense that the synthetic, highly engineered, one-use materials employed by disposable diapers would have the edge over reusable cloth diapers in terms of absorbency. The question is whether that translates to a clinical difference in incidences of diaper rash.

Luckily, The Cochrane Collaboration has done the hard work for us, reviewing twenty-eight studies and concluding that “There is not enough evidence from good quality randomised controlled trials to support or refute the use and type of disposable napkins for the prevention of napkin dermatitis in infants.”

Basically, we need more evidence before we can make any conclusions. If your baby is struggling with chronic diaper rash and you employ cloth diapers, you might consider a switch. But other than that, we leave parents with the potential for diaper rash as one of the many factors, including the cost to the environmental impact, traditions, convenience, and more, that they must consider when considering cloth vs disposable diapers.


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