Can Vaseline Protect High-Risk Infants from Eczema? Study Says Yes

December 5, 2016
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Applying low-cost moisturizers including petroleum jelly to a baby's skin for the first six months of his or her life is a cost-effective way to prevent eczema, finds a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

Seven common moisturizers are cost effective in preventing eczema in high-risk newborns. By using the cheapest moisturizer in the study (petroleum jelly), the cost benefit for prophylactic moisturization was only $353 per quality-adjusted life year, the study showed.

Families that are caring for a child with eczema spend an average of $274 per month on medical costs.

“It’s not only terrible for the kids, but also for their families,” says lead and study author Steve Xu, MD, a resident physician in dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Eczema can be devastating. Beyond the intractable itch, a higher risk of infections and sleep problems, a child with eczema means missed time from school, missed time from work for parents and huge out-of-pocket expenses. So if we can prevent that with a cheap moisturizer, we should be doing it.” 

Early studies from Japan, the U.S. and the U.K. have suggested that full-body application of moisturizers for six to eight months, beginning within the first few weeks of life, can reduce the risk that eczema will develops. Dr. Xu’s study examined the cost-effectiveness of seven common, over-the-counter moisturizer products, such as petroleum jelly, Aquaphor, Cetaphil and Aveeno.

Dr. Xu acknowledges the evidence is preliminary on prophylactic moisturization but said, “We’re not giving them an oral drug or injecting them with a medication; there is minimal risk. We’re putting Vaseline on these babies to potentially prevent a very devastating disease.”

In addition to preventing eczema, preserving the skin barrier may also reduce the risk of other health problems like food allergies, he says. Larger, long-term clinical studies are underway to see if prophylactic moisturizing leads to sustained benefits. 

PHOTO CAPTION: Applying low-cost moisturizers to a baby's skin for the first six months of his or her life is a cost-effective way to prevent eczema.

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