Researchers have found that common moisturizers could be a cost- effective way to prevent atopic dermatitis in high-risk newborns. In a study, by using the cheapest moisturizer, petroleum jelly, the cost benefit for prophylactic moisturization was only US$353 per quality-adjusted life year (QALY).
In a study published in JAMA Pediatrics (Dec. 5, 2016), investigators from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago examined the cost-effectiveness of seven common, over-the-counter moisturizer products, such as petroleum jelly, Aquaphor, Cetaphil and Aveeno.
The authors highlighted that previous studies have shown that families caring for a child with the skin disorder can spend as much as 35% of their discretionary income on treatment—an average of US$274 per month.
The investigators calculated the amount of daily all-body moisturizer needed at birth at 3.6 g (0.12 oz) per application, which increased to 6.6 g (0.22 oz) at six months of age. Of the seven products evaluated, the average price was $1.07/oz (range, $0.13/oz to $2.96/oz). For a six-month time window, the average incremental QALY benefit was 0.021.
“[Atopic dermatitis is] not only terrible for the kids, but also for their families,” said lead and corresponding study author Dr. Steve Xu, a resident physician in dermatology at Northwestern, in a press release. “Eczema can be devastating. Beyond the intractable itch, a higher risk of infections, and sleep problems, a child with eczema means missed time from school, missed time from work for parents and huge out-of-pocket expenses. So if we can prevent that with a cheap moisturizer, we should be doing it.”
Dr. Xu acknowledged that the evidence on prophylactic moisturization is preliminary but said, “we’re not giving them an oral drug or injecting them with a medication; there is minimal risk. We’re putting Vaseline on these babies to potentially prevent a very devastating disease.”
In addition to preventing atopic dermatitis, Dr. Xu cited emerging work that preserving the skin barrier may also reduce the risk of other health problems such as food allergies. He noted that larger, long-term clinical studies are underway to see if prophylactic moisturizing can lead to sustained benefits.