It is customary to wash babies in the first moments of their life in the maternity ward, then to repeat the process at least once per day afterwards. But what if our desire for hygiene and cleanliness is going too far? This question, which might seem to go against what we might consider to be common sense, was raised and backed with sound arguments at Cosmed’s 9th Day of Scientific and Technical Exchanges in Montpellier.
The theme of the day of exchanges was cosmetology for newborns and young children.
As soon as the conference began, two dermatologists, Dr Lise Agopian and Dr Mélissa Mignard-Guillaume, emphasised the specificities of babies’ skin and the implications for the cosmetic products that are best for it. Both described and pointed out the importance of the vernix caseosa in protecting the epidermis of newborns, as well as the need to respect it. Washing hastefully or too aggressively has the opposite effect!
The vernix caseosa: the skin’s first protector
The vernix caseosa, as explained by Dr Agopian, is the waxy substance that coats babies’ skin when they are born. Composed of sticky sebum and keratin debris, it protects the epidermis during in-utero aquatic life. Of variable thickness at birth, according to the infant’s maturity, it is shed naturally within a few hours or days and disappears completely when it is no longer needed.
A study carried out on 430 newborns and presented by Dr Mignard-Guillaume showed its hydrating and antioxidant activities. It also maintains the acid mantle of the epidermis and therefore its barrier function, particularly by providing protection from exterior aggressions and infections.
It is so valuable that cosmetics attempt to imitate it, in order to create products that could have the same properties and could protect the skin of certain newborns, especially premature babies.
The vernix caseosa, a protective layer to be left intact
It is easy to see the value of leaving the vernix caseosa in place on newborns. But what do we do? In most cases, on the contrary, people try to completely eliminate it as soon as possible! We take babies away as soon as they are born to wash them and return them to their mothers, pink and squeaky-clean.
The cheesy, greyish substance that covers baby’s skin in irregular patches isn’t exactly eye candy. It’s quite the opposite of the image we have of a ‘beautiful’ baby…
But leaving it alone, as Dr Agopian pointed out, promotes the establishment of the skin’s hydrolipidic film and its flora. It protects, Dr Mignard-Guillaume insisted, the baby’s fragile epidermis, which is prone to dryness even for full-term babies with healthy skin.
The two dermatologists’ conclusion was this: ‘We wash our children too much!’ At birth, they recommend simply rinsing with water. And for daily hygiene after that, they recommend washing without excess using soap-free bars, cleansing gels made with gentle surfactants, or bathing oils that respect hydration, always followed with a thorough rinsing.
Simple recommendations which, in the end, are simply common sense!