Family & Parenting

Ask the Expert: Some oils can weaken natural barrier of a baby's skin

Massaging oil into a baby's skin – as recommended by maternity health professionals

Q: "My baby has very dry skin and I want to massage it with oil. Is it best to use olive oil?"

A: Dr Alison Cooke, chief investigator of the recent OBSeRvE (Oil in Baby SkincaRE) study at the University of Manchester, says: "No, strong evidence suggests olive oil and sunflower oil aren't safe to use on baby skin, and other oils haven't been tested.

"We conducted the OBSeRvE study to assess the effect of olive oil and sunflower oil on healthy full-term newborn baby skin. These oils are the two most commonly recommended to new parents by maternity health professionals in the UK.

"We found that, compared to no oil, olive oil or sunflower oil used on the surface of the skin weakened the natural protective barrier properties of the skin from birth.

"This means that if you think of a well-built brick wall as a skin barrier, the mortar was affected when the oils were used. This weakened the skin's natural defences. This weakening can't be seen by the naked eye.

"We don't know the short or long-term effects of this. However, to avoid harm, we advise caution in using these oils on newborn baby skin for the prevention or treatment of dry skin, or for baby massage, until we have more evidence.

"The most improved skin barrier was evident in the group that didn't use oil, so this would be our advice at present."

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