Applying moisturizer to a newborn baby's skin could help prevent eczema and food allergies in later life, a Japanese study concluded.
The small-scale study, conducted by researchers at the National Center for Child Health and Development in Tokyo, found that regular lotion in the first few weeks of life can help to keep a baby's immune system intact.
The 118 newborns who participated in the study were divided into two groups: One received 32 weeks of daily emolient (over-the-counter, glycerine-based moisturizer), and the other did not. Nineteen babies in the moisturized group developed eczema, compared to 28 in the other group.
Results are tentative, and the study was small, but it seems to indicate that moisturizer means lower eczema risk. Eczema in babies is associated with some food allergies, including peanut allergies, in childhood.
Further, the study's authors concluded that emollient prevents skin from drying out and cracking, which exposes immune cells and allows irritants to get in. This, in turn, boosts the body's production of antibodies to combat the irritant, resulting in over-production. It is this over-production of antibodies that produces the symptoms of an allergy, they say.
Researchers are now considering why some of the babies still developed eczema, which could be associated with hay fever and other airborne allergies. A follow-up study is expected.