May 5, 2003 - The softness of a newborn baby's skin is legendary, but new research may one day allow grown-ups to enjoy the same soft skin. Scientists say the secret of baby-like skin may lie in the white, milky substance called vernix that coats the fetus in the womb and is wiped off immediately after birth.
A new study shows that leaving a protective layer of vernix on newborns skin after birth protects infants from dry skin and leaves their skin more hydrated and less scaly than if the vernix is wiped off.
Researchers say vernix is a complicated mix of fats, proteins, and water that develops at about the 27th week of pregnancy and shields the fetus from the potentially harsh effects of its environment. Babies born prematurely often lack adequate amounts of this coating and, as a result, are often at risk for serious skin problems.
In this study, researchers studied the effects of leaving vernix intact versus having it wiped off immediately after birth in a group of 39 full-term infants. Researchers measured skin hydration, moisture accumulation rate and skin dryness at one, four and 24 hours after birth in both groups.
They found that newborn skin with the vernix left intact was more hydrated, less scaly, and had a better acidic balance compared to the skin of babies that had the vernix removed.
The results of the study were presented this week at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Seattle, Wash.
Researchers say this substance is not only an effective moisturizer, but it also acts as a natural wound healer, cleanser, antioxidant, and infection fighter. They hope to duplicate Mother Nature's formula in creating a synthetic version of vernix and apply it to a variety of therapeutic and cosmetic uses, such as treating dry skin, wound dressings, and as a replacement for natural vernix in preterm infants.
"We view the production of vernix as analogous to infant formula as a substitute for milk," says researcher Marty Visscher, PhD, executive director of the Skin Sciences Institute at Children's Hospital Medical Center of Cincinnati, in a news release. "Nature has figured out how to make it. Long term, we hope to be able to mass produce a synthetic equivalent. There is nothing out there now to take care of these preterm babies, and the list of other applications for vernix is endless."