Face Scratching in Babies: Exploring the Why, When, and Prevention Strategies

Babies Scratching Their Faces

Did you know infants tend to scratch their faces more frequently than adults? This behavior can be attributed to their heightened skin sensitivity and sharper nails. Scratching can lead to irritation and discomfort on a baby’s delicate skin. Fortunately, numerous effective methods are available to alleviate your baby’s skin-related issues and minimize scratching incidents.

This comprehensive article will delve into the underlying causes of babies scratching their faces, provide insights on preventing such behavior, and offer guidance on treating irritated skin. 

By diligently maintaining your baby’s trimmed nails, ensuring adequate skin moisturization, avoiding potential irritants, and employing engaging distractions, you can effectively shield their face from harm while promoting optimal skin health and overall comfort. With time and patience, most babies stop frequently scratching their faces between 6 to 12 months of age as their skin develops and they gain more motor control and awareness.

Why Do Babies Scratch Their Faces?

There are several reasons why babies scratch their faces:

  • Dry skin: Cold weather, harsh products, and low humidity can dry out a baby’s skin and cause itching. Dry skin is more common in winter, according to the Mayo Clinic. Applying fragrance-free moisturizer, especially after bathing while the skin is still damp, can hydrate the skin and relieve discomfort.
  • Baby rash: Rashes from allergy, irritation, or infection can prompt scratching. Common triggers include food, saliva, detergents, and fabrics. The National Eczema Association recommends using mild skin care products, washing clothes in fragrance-free detergent, and avoiding known allergens.
  • Moro reflex: The Moro reflex causes babies to fling out their arms when startled. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this reflex usually disappears around 3 to 6 months. Swaddling, distracting, or holding a baby’s hands can help minimize scratching from the Moro reflex.
  • Self-soothing: Scratching can calm and comfort some babies. The University of Michigan Health System notes that self-soothing behaviors emerge around 2 months old. Providing alternate ways to soothe a baby, such as with toys, sound, rocking, or swaddling, can help reduce scratching for comfort.

How to Prevent Baby Face Scratching

There are several ways to prevent your baby from scratching their face:

  • Trim fingernails: Keeping your baby’s nails short and filed can minimize damage from scratching. Trim nails when softer after a bath or while the baby sleeps.
  • Use mittens: Mittens or socks pulled over hands can prevent scratching. Choose breathable mittens that fit securely but not too tightly. Remove mittens if the baby seems very irritated or upset.
  • Moisturize skin: Apply fragrance-free baby lotion, ointment or cream, especially after bathing. This hydrates skin, soothes irritation and relieves itching. Reapply as needed based on your baby’s skin type.
  • Avoid triggers: Reduce exposure to potential allergens or irritants like harsh laundry detergents, wool, and certain foods. Wash baby clothes, towels and bedding in dye-free, fragrance-free detergent and rinse well. Gradually introduce new foods and watch for signs of allergy.
  • Distract or soothe: Gently scratching, massaging or cradling the baby’s hands, offering a pacifier or teething ring, rocking, swaddling or providing toys or sounds may distract or comfort a baby and reduce scratching. Avoid overstimulating the baby.

How to Treat Baby Face Scratching

In addition to prevention, the following treatments can help relieve irritation from scratching and promote healing:

Cold compresses: Apply cold washcloths, ice packs, or milk wipes to the face for 10 minutes to reduce inflammation, irritation, and pain. Never apply ice directly to the skin.

Topical creams:

  1. Use over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream, zinc oxide, petroleum jelly, or diaper rash cream to protect, heal and soothe the skin.
  2. Follow directions and do not overapply.
  3. See a doctor for a prescription medication if symptoms worsen or do not improve.

Antihistamines/steroids: Oral medications like antihistamines (e.g. Benadryl) or steroids may relieve severe inflammation or allergic reaction. Only give medication as directed by your baby’s doctor.

See a doctor: Consult your baby’s pediatrician if they have signs of infection like pus, swelling or fever, severe or untreated eczema, or anaphylaxis like difficulty breathing or throat swelling. A doctor can determine the cause of frequent scratching and recommend appropriate treatment or specialist referrals.

By keeping your baby’s nails trimmed, skin moisturized and avoiding potential irritants, you can minimize discomfort and help your baby stop scratching their face over time. Be patient through the early stages of development, continue providing comfort, and talk to your doctor if scratching does not decrease or skin problems worsen. With the right skincare and TLC, your baby’s delicate face will stay soft, healthy and irritation-free.



At what age do babies stop scratching their faces?

Most babies frequently stop scratching their faces between 6 to 12 months of age. As their skin develops and matures and they gain more motor control and self-awareness, the urge to scratch decreases. However, some light rubbing may continue intermittently for a few more months.


How do I get my baby to stop scratching his face?

To minimize face scratching in babies, trim nails, use mittens or socks on your hands, moisturize skin, avoid potential irritants, and distract or soothe your baby. Gently restrain or swaddle hands, offer teething toys or rub hands when scratching, apply cold compresses to irritated skin, bathe in lukewarm water, and dress baby in breathable soft fabrics. Consult your doctor if severe or for prescription medication.


Is it normal for babies to scratch their faces?

Yes, it is normal for babies to scratch their faces at times, especially very young infants. Their nails grow fast, their skin is sensitive, and itching or irritation, while unfamiliar to them, can lead to scratching. However, frequent, persistent or intense scratching can indicate another issue like eczema, dry skin, allergy or infection and should be addressed to prevent skin damage or complications.


Why does my 15-month-old scratch my face?

At 15 months, your baby is curious about the world and learning through exploration. Reaching out and touching things, including people’s faces, is a way for toddlers to interact with and understand their environment. Your baby may scratch or grab at your face to get your attention as a sign of affection or out of general curiosity about physical features like noses, eyes, hair, and more. Gently but firmly discourage face scratching, offer distractions or alternate behaviors, and teach your toddler to “be gentle.” With consistency, they will learn more appropriate ways of interaction and exploration.

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