Details of a pilot study (1) led by a research team at the University of Manchester, which involved 115 infants, suggest that gently massaging your infant even with natural oils could do more harm than good to their skin.
In fact, the study claims this practice can help to increase the likelihood of the infant developing eczema.
This research, supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), reveals that massaging with oils in this way can damage the fragile protective barrier which prevents water loss and blocks allergens and infections in an infant's delicate skin.
The babies included in the study were divided into three groups - olive oil, sunflower oil and no oil. At the end of a 28-day trial period where babies in the oil groups were treated with a few drops on their skin twice a day, the structure in the skin of each baby was investigated. Compared to the no oil group, in both oil groups the development of the skin barrier function was delayed.
There is currently no UK guidance about skincare for babies. Researchers said they cannot recommend the use of either sunflower or olive oil on babies' skin. Alison Cooke, the lecturer in midwifery who led the research, said: "We need to do more research on this issue with different oils and also study possible links to eczema, 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 new born baby skin should be avoided."
1. 'Olive Oil, Sunflower Oil or no Oil for Baby Dry Skin or Massage: A Pilot Assessor-blinded, Randomized Controlled Trial (the Oil in Baby SkincaRE [ObSeRvE] Study)', was published in the journal Acta Dermato-Venereologica.