Study: Skin moisturizer won’t prevent childhood eczema

NOTTINGHAM, England — Eczema is a very common skin condition in children, so common in fact, it is estimated to affect one in five kids in the United Kingdom. The onset of eczema often begins in infancy, and dry skin is typically the first noticeable symptom associated with the condition. Skin moisturizer can usually fix a case of dry skin, so many parents break out the moisturizer whenever they notice a dry patch of skin in hopes of avoiding an eczema diagnosis. Unfortunately, a new study out of the University of Nottingham finds that even daily use of a skin moisturizer during the first year of life won’t prevent eczema in children.

It’s generally believed that a faulty skin barrier is the first necessary development in order for a person to develop eczema. On that note, skin moisturizers do indeed improve skin barrier functioning by adding an extra layer to the skin’s outermost level and providing hydration.

So, it certainly makes sense that one would theorize a daily regimen of moisturizer could help prevent eczema. Many healthcare workers even advise parents of newborns to administer moisturizer to their baby’s skin to prevent eczema. This new study was carried out in hopes of determining if daily application of skin moisturizer on a newborn can help prevent eczema in childhood.

Researchers examined 1394 newborn babies who were born to families with a history of eczema, hay fever, or asthma. All of the babies were separated into two experimental groups: one group of babies received some moisturizer all over their body every day until they turned one year old, and the other group of babies didn’t receive any moisturizer whatsoever. However, parents within both groups were given helpful skincare tips for their newborn.

All in all, the study found absolutely no evidence that daily moisturizing can help prevent eczema. Surprisingly, the babies that were moisturized actually had a slightly higher risk of contracting a skin infection, and there was even some evidence that over-moisturizing a newborn can raise their risk of developing a food allergy.

“Much progress has been made in recent years on the treatment of severe eczema, but the goal of preventing eczema from developing in the first place remains elusive. Other small studies suggested that moisturizers from birth might prevent eczema, and we were surprised when our large study showed no effect at all,” comments study leader Professor Hywel Williams, a dermatologist at the University of Nottingham, in a release.

“Whilst this is disappointing for sufferers who thought that was an option for their children, we can now recommend that this advice is not given to parents and begin looking at what other possible preventative options there may be,” he concludes. “It is important not to confuse our study on moisturizers for eczema prevention with the use of moisturizers for people who have eczema, where the evidence of benefit is much greater”.

The study is published in The Lancet.

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John Anderer

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