The Best Diaper Rash Cream
The best diaper rash cream should contain an effective moisture barrier — like petrolatum or zinc oxide — while avoiding ingredients that could irritate your baby's skin. To find our top picks, we talked to doctors, analyzed ingredients, then tested 20 popular brands to see how water-repellent they actually were.
A zinc oxide and petrolatum paste that goes on smoothly, provides full coverage, and boasts anti-inflammatory extras like oat kernel extract.
Cetaphil Baby Diaper Cream
A zinc oxide cream that’s a little thinner and a bit cheaper.
A heavy-duty paste with petrolatum plus 40% zinc oxide to soothe skin that’s especially irritated.
Nature’s Baby Organics
No zinc oxide or petrolatum. Instead, this paste repels moisture via beeswax and plant-based oils.
The Best Diaper Rash Cream
Diaper rash creams work by forming a moisture barrier that keeps your baby’s skin dry. This is most commonly achieved via zinc oxide (yep, just like you find in many sunscreens), followed by petrolatum. But the best diaper rash cream will also contain extras to help soothe and moisturize — ingredients like shea butter, beeswax, or lanolin.
Our top all-around pick is Triple Paste Medicated Ointment. The cream is totally odorless, and uses petrolatum plus 12% zinc oxide — a combination that forms an effective moisture barrier without being overly thick or sticky. Our testers were surprised by how easy it was to apply and spread, noting that they only had to use a small amount to achieve full coverage. We also liked the formula’s inclusion of oat kernel extract and bisabolol (a chamomile derivative) to soothe irritated skin. $9 for 2 ounces.
Our runner-up for daily use, Cetaphil Baby Diaper Cream, is a familiar drugstore brand with a gentle, zinc oxide-based formula. It doesn’t contain petrolatum, so it’s not quite as thick as Triple Paste, but it’s easy to spread in a thin, even layer and, like Triple Paste, contains anti-inflammatory extras like calendula extract. Testers reported a faint, vanilla-like fragrance. $6 for 2.5 ounces.
Can I just use baby powder or cornstarch? Dusting the diaper region with talcum powder or cornstarch used to be common, but the medical community now recommends against it. Babies can inhale the powder, leading to lung irritation and respiratory complications.
If you’re facing a particularly painful rash, we’d suggest Boudreaux's Butt Paste Maximum Strength. This familiar brand contains just five ingredients, including both petrolatum and 40% zinc oxide for a one-two punch. It’s a thick paste that might be too heavy-duty for daily use but would be an effective tool in the fight against an angry rash. It was easy to swipe out of its big tub, spread evenly without being too sticky, and left behind a pleasant vanilla scent. $12 for 4 ounces.
Nature's Baby Organics Organic Diaper Ointment was our favorite plant-based cream. It uses coconut oil and beeswax as moisture barriers and has a faint, woodsy smell that reminded us of cedar. Testers reported light but adequate coverage, although it didn’t quite match the water-repelling abilities of creams containing zinc oxide or petrolatum. But unlike many of the natural products we tested, it didn’t melt or run upon application. $12 for 3 ounces.
How We Found the Best Diaper Rash Cream
We started with all the diaper rash creams we could find: 67 products, from niche organics to national brands. We wanted an everyday cream that parents could use on the regular, so we didn’t include anti-fungal creams like Nystatin, which should only be used for diagnosed yeast infections. We also avoided hydrocortisone creams, which aren’t advised for long-term use.
We eliminated potentially irritating ingredients.
The best diaper rash cream should soothe — not irritate. So we cut products with any of the following ingredients:
Synthetic fragrance: At best, it’s unnecessary. At worst, it can cause additional irritation. Synthetic fragrance can be a source of phthalates, which have been linked to allergic skin reactions. This eliminated some major national brands, like A+D.
Tea-tree oil and lemongrass: Just because an ingredient is plant-based doesn’t mean it’s gentle. Dr. Peter Lio, clinical assistant professor of dermatology & pediatrics at Northwestern University and partner at Medical Dermatology Associates of Chicago, told us, “I’m a fan of certain botanicals for certain purposes, but for general diaper cream, less is more. Things like lemongrass and tea tree oil can be sensitizing or irritating and probably do not add any real effect.” Eliminating tea tree oil, in particular, cut some popular “natural” brands from the running, like Earth Mama Angel Baby.
Methylisothiazolinone: This ingredient is sometimes used for its antibacterial powers, but it’s been linked to allergic dermatitis, so we opted to avoid it.
We eliminated controversial preservatives.
Like most personal care products, diaper rash creams rely on preservatives to extend their shelf life and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. That said, some preservatives have come under fire for potentially dangerous side effects.
Take parabens: Some studies raise concerns about skin irritation, and more significantly, endocrine disruption, and the EU has restricted the use of some types of parabens. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) ultimately maintains that “Parabens are rarely irritating or sensitizing to normal human skin at concentrations used in cosmetics.” However, we decided to err on the side of caution when it came to a product intended for very young children.
Phenoxyethanol, meanwhile, has been known to cause vomiting and diarrhea when consumed by infants: The FDA raised concerns about this ingredient in a now-recalled nipple cream. In theory, diaper rash cream won’t be going anywhere near your baby’s mouth, but in our experience, babies manage to get just about everything in their mouths at some point. So again, we opted to play it safe.
We divided our remaining contenders into three groups.
Different creams have different percentages of zinc oxide, and it can be a little overwhelming to figure out how much you need. So we divided our remaining contenders into three categories.
Creams labeled “maximum strength” typically have between 30% and 40% zinc oxide, making for a thicker cream and thicker coverage. (40% is the highest percentage that can be sold over-the-counter). This makes them the best choice for a persistent rash.
For everyday use, however, experts agree that lower amounts are generally sufficient: typically between 10% and 15%. Dr. Lio told us that while “higher can be helpful in some scenarios,” some of his favorite brands contain “just over 12%.”
Finally, knowing that some parents prefer all-natural options, we looked for contenders with no zinc oxide at all — plus no petrolatum. These creams instead rely on beeswax or plant-based oils to create a moisture barrier.
We selected a variety of brands and price points across each of these three categories, focusing on products with widespread name recognition — we wanted to see if commonly recommended creams lived up to their hype.
Then we put them all to the test.
We applied a dollop of each cream to the inside of our wrists, testing effectiveness in five categories: texture, moisture-repelling properties, thickness, ease of use, and ease of removal.
Creams with a higher percentage of zinc oxide were noticeably thicker, while products that used petrolatum as their only active ingredient were oily and more likely to leave residue on the skin. Most of the plant-based products became runnier as they warmed up — creating the odd sensation that we were drizzling cooking oil on our skin.
Next, we applied water to the creams to see whether the water beaded up and rolled off. In most cases, our contenders performed well, though plant-based formulas like Badger Baby Balm didn’t always repel the water as quickly.
Some of the creams were surprisingly difficult to squeeze out of their tubes, especially Desitin and California Baby Super Sensitive, which required us to use both hands. This seemed impractical if you need one hand to hold down an uncooperative baby, so we gave preference to creams that could be squeezed out with just one hand. Most of the formulas did wipe away quickly, though, leaving us confident we could get everything off between changings.
Our Picks for the Best Diaper Rash Cream
Best for Daily Use
In hands-on testing, we were surprised at how much Triple Paste stood out from its peers. This pure white cream had no trouble repelling water, causing liquid to quickly bead and roll off our skin. We were also able to achieve a thick, frosting-like layer of coverage with very little product — unlike Mustela and Dr. Smith’s, which felt thin even after we applied a healthy dollop. Because Triple Paste comes in a tub, it was also notably easier to apply than Attitude and Desitin, which were hard to squeeze out of their tubes.
While all of our finalists were technically fragrance-free, many still had a faint scent. Pinxav, for example, contains menthol, which made it smell off-puttingly medicinal (“like a wintergreen lozenge,” one tester noted). Both the Boudreaux Butt Paste formulas we tested also carried a faint vanilla smell, which we found pleasant but definitely noticeable. Even upon close inhale, however, Triple Paste gave off no scent at all.
The paste contains both petrolatum and 12% zinc oxide. Why both? Dr. Lio told us that “zinc oxide is a good protectant with mild astringent properties, while adding petrolatum to the mix adds a powerful barrier that can help things heal. I actually prefer a combination of moisturizers instead of just one.” Our testers reported a similar preference: Products like Aquaphor, which rely solely on petrolatum, tended to feel greasier.
In addition to petrolatum and zinc oxide, Triple Paste has lanolin to help soften the skin and beeswax as an additional moisturizer. These ingredients, plus cornstarch, contribute to Triple Paste’s soft, pillowy feel. The cream also has other great extras: oat kernel extract, which has anti-inflammatory properties, and bisabolol, which is derived from chamomile and provides a soothing effect. But we appreciated the fact that the formula steers clear of plant-based ingredients whose efficacy hasn’t actually been tested. A 2-ounce tub retails for about $9.
Daily Use Runner-up
Cetaphil, a familiar name in skin care, offers another everyday option that we liked: a soft, cream-colored paste that smells faintly of vanilla. It has no petrolatum, just zinc oxide, but it’s less sticky than many of the zinc-oxide creams we tested. The formula includes skin-soothing extras like calendula — which has moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties — plus panthenol, which may help reduce diaper rash more quickly.
That said, Triple Paste edged Cetaphil out thanks to its superior coverage. We had to use more Cetaphil to achieve a similarly thick barrier, and liquids didn’t bead up and roll off quite as quickly during our water test. We also weren’t wild about Cetaphil’s packaging. It uses a lightweight flip-cap that has to be aligned just right to close, and it comes in a tube that’s surprisingly slick. We felt on the verge of dropping it when opening or closing it one-handed — not a recipe for success if you’re holding down a squirming baby. That said, it’s a well-known brand that’s widely available a pinch. A 2.5-ounce tube runs about $6.
Best Maximum Strength
Boudreaux Butt Paste Maximum Strength Formula was markedly thicker and heavier upon application than the other maximum-strength creams we tested, with a formula that includes 40% zinc oxide. It still spread evenly and easily, however, creating the type of thick barrier necessary for protecting already irritated skin. Because of its heavier texture, note that it is more difficult to remove — we had to make several passes with a soft cloth to get it all off.
Burt’s Bees and Vanicream were close runners-up, but neither formula was quite as thick. They felt like they were absorbing into our skin rather than remaining on top of it. Vanicream also had a tendency to separate slightly between uses. Though both contenders performed well during our water-repelling tests, we ultimately preferred Boudreaux’s less-oily skin-feel.
Note that both of the Boudreaux formulas (Max Strength and Original) contain Peruvian balsam, which is derived from balsam trees and possesses anti-bacterial properties. It turns out that the balsam accounts for the pleasant vanilla/cinnamon scent of the paste. But in rare cases, Peruvian balsam has been linked to contact dermatitis. If you’re concerned about this ingredient, we’d suggest Burt's Bees Diaper Rash Ointment or Vanicream Diaper Rash Ointment instead.
A 4-ounce tube of Boudreaux Butt Paste Maximum Strength will run you about $12.
Best Natural Pick
This plant-based choice contains USDA certified organic ingredients. Beeswax acts as a natural moisturizer, while a combination of oils repel water and soften skin, including olive oil, coconut oil, and castor seed oil.
In our hands-on tests, oil-based creams didn’t repel water as quickly or efficiently as creams with zinc and petrolatum. That said, Nature’s Baby Organics had the best moisture barrier of any of the plant-based creams we tried, with more noticeable water beading than picks like Badger Baby Balm. It’s also thicker than rivals like The Honest Company and Mother Love, which felt grainy coming out and runny once they warmed up.
Nature’s Baby comes in a medium-sized tube, which was another selling point. Several natural picks come in very tiny packages: Motherlove Balm and Booty Balm both arrived in chapstick-sized pots, and while they were soothing and soft upon application, it was hard to get enough product out at one time to do much good. We had similar problems with Badger Baby Balm, which comes in a flat, disc-like container — it’s nearly impossible to remove a sizeable amount with your fingertips because it’s packed flat.
Nature’s Baby is a little pricier than our other top picks, at about $12 for a 1-ounce tube, but if you want an all-natural pick that performs comparably to more traditional formulations, we think it’s your best bet.
Did You Know?
Use best practices to prevent a rash.
Change your baby frequently and allow skin to dry completely before applying cream and putting on a new diaper. In addition, keep these tips in mind:
- Don’t over-tighten diapers. In addition to being uncomfortable for your baby, this can restrict airflow, leading to a damp environment that encourages diaper rash.
- Apply a thick layer of cream. To gauge the proper amount, one of our experts suggested pretending that you're spreading icing on a cake. Remember, it's serving as the barrier between fluids and skin.
- See a doctor if the rash hasn’t cleared up after three days. Diaper creams won’t solve yeast infections or true allergies, so if you notice lingering irritation, check with your pediatrician.
If you use cloth diapers, avoid petrolatum.
Petroleum jelly, mineral oil, and other petrolatum-based products can stain cloth diapers. Beyond this, they can also build up on the material, especially fleece and other synthetic fabrics, reducing the effectiveness of the diaper.
Instead, look for a zinc-based cream like Cetaphil Baby Diaper Cream, though note that you’ll still need a thorough washing protocol and plenty of hot water. And even here, cotton diaper material — like classic prefold diapers — will fare better than the synthetic materials common to all-in-one or pocket diapers.
Many diaper rash creams are multipurpose.
Plant- or petrolatum-based formulas, like Nature’s Baby Organics or Aquaphor, are often great for fighting dry, cracked skin on adults, since they use the same moisturizers found in many hand creams. (You can also try this with a zinc oxide product, but be warned it won’t rub in very well.)
Beauty bloggers have gotten press for using diaper rash cream to fight acne, and studies actually seem to back this up, finding zinc oxide moderately effective against pimples. That said, heavy-duty emollients like petroleum jelly sometimes lead to more breakouts if used on your face, so you might want to spring for a proven acne treatment instead.