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Adult Nappy Rash: What You Need to Know

Adult Nappy Rash: What You Need to Know

, by Aussie Pharma Direct, 10 min reading time

Adult nappy rash, also known as adult diaper rash, is a condition that many adults find themselves reluctantly discussing. Nappy rash, often referred to as incontinence-associated dermatitis (IAD), is a specific type of rash that occurs in individuals who experience incontinence. But before we dive into the causes, let's take a moment to acknowledge the prevalence of incontinence among adults. Incontinence, the unintentional loss of urine or faeces, is actually more common than you might think. 

According to the Continence Foundation of Australia, 1 in 4 adult Australians experience incontinence. That's right, 25% of the population finds themselves in a rather leaky situation at times. So, this means that a number of Australians rely on diapers or incontinence products.

The impact of nappy rash on quality of life can be, well, rather irritating. Imagine the feeling of a thousand itchy ants tap-dancing on your skin but in the most inconvenient of locations. It can cause discomfort, and pain, and even interfere with daily activities.

What causes nappy rash?

IAD is primarily caused by the prolonged exposure of the skin to urine or faeces, coupled with other factors such as friction, moisture, and the presence of bacteria, leading to pain and discomfort. Let's explore these causes in more detail:

Prolonged moisture

When diapers or incontinence products are not changed promptly or if they lack proper absorbency, the skin remains damp. This persistent moisture creates an ideal environment for skin irritation and the growth of bacteria or fungi.

Friction and irritation

The constant rubbing and friction between the skin and diapers can damage the skin's protective barrier, making it more susceptible to inflammation and discomfort. This could even lead to a blistering nappy rash. 

Lack of airflow

When diapers or incontinence products are tightly fitted or made from non-breathable materials, it restricts the circulation of air, trapping moisture against the skin and hindering the skin's ability to stay dry.

Skin sensitivities and allergies

Just like in babies, adults can also have sensitivities or allergies to certain materials or ingredients found in diapers or incontinence products. These can include fragrances, dyes, latex, or certain fabrics. 

Incontinence and urinary/faecal acids

The urine and faeces contain acids that can be irritating to the skin, especially when prolonged contact occurs. These acids can disrupt the skin's natural pH balance, within 10 to 15 minutes upon contact, leading to inflammation and rash development.

Poor hygiene practices

Without regular or improper cleaning and drying, residual urine or faeces can remain on the skin, causing irritation and promoting bacterial growth.

What does nappy rash look like?

Nappy rash on adults can manifest in various ways, and its appearance can vary depending on the severity and underlying causes. Here are some common characteristics of nappy rash:

  1. Redness: One of the most noticeable signs of nappy rash is redness in the affected area. The skin may appear inflamed, with a distinct shade of red that can range from light pink to a deeper, more intense hue.
  2. Irritation: Nappy rash often causes skin irritation, which can be seen as raised bumps, small blisters, or general skin discomfort. The affected area may feel rough to the touch and appear slightly swollen.
  3. Soreness: The skin affected by nappy rash may feel tender and sore. Discomfort or pain can be experienced when touching or applying pressure to the rash. This sensitivity is particularly common in severe cases.
  4. Dry or moist skin: Depending on the specific cause and circumstances, nappy rash can lead to either dry or moist skin. In some cases of dry skin rash, the affected area may become dry, flaky, and cracked. In other instances, moisture trapped by the nappy or incontinence product can create a damp environment that worsens the rash.
  5. Peeling or skin loss: In some cases, a more severe nappy rash can cause peeling or even skin loss. This typically occurs when the rash persists or worsens over time, leading to the breakdown of the outer layers of the skin.

How to differentiate nappy rash from other skin conditions?

Differentiating nappy rash from other skin conditions can be challenging, as some symptoms may overlap. However, there are a few key factors to consider when trying to distinguish nappy rash from other skin conditions:


If the rash appears predominantly in the nappy region, it is more likely to be a nappy rash. Other skin conditions may affect different areas of the body.

Presentation and appearance

Diaper rash often presents as redness, irritation, and inflammation of the skin in the nappy area. It may be accompanied by small bumps, blisters, or skin peeling. However, other skin conditions may have distinct characteristics such as specific rashes, scales, pustules, or lesions.

Duration and persistence

Diaper rash typically improves within a few days with appropriate care, including frequent diaper changes, keeping the area clean and dry, and using protective creams or ointments. If the rash persists or worsens despite these measures, it may indicate a different underlying skin condition that requires medical attention.

Associated symptoms

Nappy rash is primarily characterised by skin irritation and discomfort. It is not usually accompanied by systemic symptoms like fever, body aches, or severe itching. Other skin conditions, such as fungal infections or allergic reactions, may present with additional symptoms beyond localised skin irritation.

Medical history and risk factors

Considering your medical history and risk factors can also provide insights. For example, if you have a history of eczema or known allergies, you may be more prone to related skin conditions. In contrast, nappy rash is commonly associated with diaper use or incontinence and may occur in the absence of other underlying skin conditions.

How to treat nappy rash?

Experiencing a bad nappy rash can be an incredibly frustrating and uncomfortable ordeal. Simple actions like changing clothes or engaging in physical activities can become bothersome when dealing with a diaper rash. By following some essential tips for nappy rash treatments, you can reduce its impact and work towards overcoming it!

  1. Frequent diaper changes helps minimise prolonged exposure to moisture and irritants, allowing the skin to stay drier and reducing the risk of irritation.
  2. When cleaning the nappy area, opt for gentle and mild cleansers specifically designed for sensitive skin. Avoid using harsh soaps or wipes that may contain fragrances or alcohol.
  3. After cleansing, gently pat the area dry with a soft towel or use a hairdryer on a low, cool setting to ensure the skin is completely dry before putting on a fresh diaper.
  4. Applying a protective barrier cream or ointment containing ingredients such as zinc oxide like that of Soodox Soothe & Protect or petroleum jelly like Vaseline can help create a barrier between the skin and moisture, reducing friction and preventing further irritation.
  5. Whenever possible, allow the nappy area to be exposed to fresh air. This can be achieved by giving brief periods of nappy-free time or using open-bottomed diapers.
  6. Choose loose-fitting clothing or diapers that allow for airflow and minimise friction against the affected area. Avoid tight or synthetic fabrics that can trap moisture.
  7. It is important to seek medical advice if the rash persists. A healthcare professional may prescribe medicated creams or ointments containing antifungal or steroid medications as severe nappy rash treatments to address underlying infections or inflammation

Best cream for nappy rash

When it comes to treating nappy rash, there are a variety of over-the-counter (OTC) treatments and creams available that can provide effective relief, and they’re easily accessible anywhere in Australia!

A lot of them are considered as barrier creams because of the ingredients that make up their protective and repairing characteristics, not only to treat the existing rash but also serves as an effective preventive measure. 

Zinc oxide creams

Zinc oxide is a compound made up of zinc, a naturally occurring mineral, and oxygen. When applied on the skin, it forms a thin, breathable layer that acts as a physical barrier. Plus, it supports the skin's natural regenerative processes, aiding in the repair of damaged or irritated skin.

Petroleum jelly

A classic and versatile option, it works by forming a protective barrier on the skin. It is a semi-solid mixture of hydrocarbons derived from petroleum, and its unique properties make it an effective moisturiser and skin protectant.

Calamine lotion

Calamine lotion is known for its soothing properties and can be used to alleviate the itchiness and discomfort associated with nappy rash. It contains ingredients such as zinc oxide and ferric oxide, which provide a cooling effect and help calm irritated skin.

Hydrocortisone creams

In cases of severe inflammation or persistent nappy rash, a mild hydrocortisone cream may be recommended. These creams contain a low concentration of corticosteroids, which help reduce inflammation and alleviate itching. It is important to use the cream as directed and for the recommended duration, as prolonged use can have side effects.


The information provided in this blog is based on general knowledge and research conducted by the Aussie Pharma Direct team. While we strive to provide accurate and up-to-date information, it is important to note that this content is not intended to replace or serve as a substitute for professional medical advice.

Please consult a healthcare professional for personalised advice, diagnosis, and treatment tailored to your specific needs and circumstances.


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