Why You Shouldn't Put Olive or Sunflower Oil on Baby's Skin

Using olive or sunflower oil on newborn babies' skin can do more harm than good.

rubbing oil on baby foot
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My son had the WORST case of eczema when he was a baby, and I would have tried anything to get rid of it.

So when a friend suggested rubbing olive oil on all the rough, red patches, I eagerly gave it a shot.

Did it work? Eh. But now, researchers suggest it may have actually done more harm than good. According to a new study, putting olive or sunflower oil on an otherwide healthy newborn's skin can delay the development of the barrier that prevents water loss and protects against allergy and infection.

Say what, now?

Until now, there has been little research into the effects of these oils, despite changes to baby skincare being linked to a dramatic increase in eczema over the last few decades: from 5 percent of children ages 2 to 15 in the 1940s to around 30 percent today.

To test the effects of the two oils on babies' skin, researchers recruited 115 newborn infants and divided them into three groups: olive oil, sunflower oil, and no oil. At the end of a 28-day trial period during which babies in the oil groups were treated with a few drops on their skin twice a day, the lipid lamellae structure in the skin of each baby was investigated, and in both oil groups the development of the skin barrier function was delayed compared to the no oil group.

According to Alison Cooke, a lecturer in midwifery who led the research, if the skin barrier functions as a wall, with bricks made of cells, then the lipid lamellae is the mortar that holds it together. "If it isn't developed enough then cracks appear which let water out and foreign bodies through," she said. "Oil prevents this mortar from developing as quickly and this could be linked to the development of conditions such as eczema."

While the results showed that the newborn babies who had oil applied had more hydrated skin, researchers said this may not be a good enough reason to risk the possible effect on the barrier, at least not without more research.

In the meantime, they cannot recommend the use of either sunflower or olive oil on the skin of healthy newborns. "We need to do more research on this issue with different oils and also study possible links to eczema," said Cooke. "But what is clear is that the current advice given to parents is not based on any evidence and until this is forthcoming the use of these two oils on newborn baby skin should be avoided."

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and a mom. Check out her website holleeactmanbecker.com for more, and follow her on Twitter at @holleewoodworld

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