Olive and sunflower oils found to impair skin barrier function in infants


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Researchers from the University of Manchester, U.K., have found that olive and sunflower oils used as treatment for dry skin on infants appear to damage the skin barrier, according to a paper published online ahead of print in Acta Dermato-Venereologica (Nov. 9, 2015).

Prior research from the university identified that it is common for midwives in the U.K. to recommend the two oils for children with dry skin though there has been little research into the value of doing so, according to a press release from the university.

To study the impact of these two oils used as moisturizers in this population, 115 healthy full-term infants were recruited at a single hospital centre and randomized to be treated with olive oil, sunflower oil, or no oil twice daily for four weeks, according to the paper. Spectral profile of lipid lamellae, trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL), stratum corneum hydration and pH were all measured, and researchers recorded clinical observations both at baseline and four weeks post-birth.

While hydration was significantly improved in both oil groups, both had significantly less improvement in lipid lamellae structure than the no-oil group.

“If the skin barrier function is a wall with bricks made of cells, then the lipid lamellae is the mortar that holds it together,” said lead author Alison Cooke, PhD, in the release. Dr. Cooke is a lecturer in midwifery at the university. “If it isn’t developed enough then cracks appear which let water out and foreign bodies through.”

“Oil prevents this mortar from developing as quickly and this could be linked to the development of conditions such as eczema,” said Dr. Cooke.

This impact on skin lipids led the investigators to suggest that the benefits of the observed improvement in hydration with these two oils did not outweigh the potential harm, according to the release.

“We need to do more research on this issue with different oils and also study possible links to eczema, but what is clear is that the current advice given to parents is not based on any evidence and until this is forthcoming the use of these two oils on new born baby skin should be avoided,” said Dr. Cooke.

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