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Study discovers key to baby-like skin

For nine months before birth, infants soak in a watery, urine-filled environment. Just hours after birth, however, they have near-perfect skin. How is it that nature enables infants to develop ideal skin in such seemingly unsuitable surroundings?

A new study by researchers at the Skin Sciences Institute of Cincinnati Childrens Hospital Medical Center shows that the answer may be vernix -- the white, cheesy substance that coats infants for weeks before they are born, then is wiped off and discarded immediately after birth. If theyre right, the healthcare implications for newborns and adults could be remarkable.

The study, to be presented May 6 at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Seattle, shows that newborn skin with vernix left intact is more hydrated, less scaly, and undergoes a more rapid decrease in pH than with vernix removed, says Marty Visscher, PhD, executive director of the Skin Sciences Institute and the studys main author. These beneficial effects of vernix suggest that it should be left intact at birth.

Vernix is a complex mixture of lipids (fats), proteins and water. Babies born at 32 to 33 weeks are covered with the material. Those who are born full term have already lost a good portion of it. The researchers studied full-term infants, half of whom had vernix wiped off and half left intact on the surface of the skin. Skin hydration, moisture accumulation rate, skin pH and visual dryness were measured at one, four and 24 hours after birth.

Skin Sciences Institute researchers have been studying vernix for several years and found that it is not only a moisturizer but also a wound healer, cleanser, anti-infective and antioxidant. Cincinnati Childrens has obtained four patents on vernix technology and hopes to formulate a synthetic equivalent that could be used in a variety of ways: as a film on products ranging from diapers to wound dressings; as a replacement for vernix in low-birthweight,
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Contact: Jim Feuer
jim.feuer@cchmc.org
513-636-4656
Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center
6-May-2003


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