To Wash or Not to Wash - Could be the Reason For Your Bad Skin Since Birth

We don’t talk about babies very often here at Teen Vogue, unless it’s to admire North West’s enviable wardrobe. That all changes today, because it turns out that newborn babies are setting some new trends in skincare.

Traditionally when babies are born in hospitals in the U.S., they’re whisked away from their moms, examined by a medical team, and then given a bath. This all makes perfect sense, because birth can be a messy process. But more and more parents are requesting that babies not be bathed at all after birth, sometimes for over five days. Babies often are born covered with a white, cottage cheese-like substance called vernix caseosa, so at first glance this sounds really gross. Turns out that vernix is basically one of the best natural moisturizers out there. (For babies anyway. We do not expect to see nor do we endorse beauty bloggers using it any time soon.)

Before you say, “Ew, what does this have to do with me?” hear us out. First, let’s take a trip into the uterus of a pregnant lady, because understanding how a woman’s body works in all of its potential glorious stages is important life knowledge. In today’s “vaginas and the stuff that comes out of them is not yucky” news: A baby floats around in a rich cocktail of water and nutrients called amniotic fluid while in the mom’s uterus. (When you hear the expression, “Her water broke,” the “water” is the amniotic fluid.) A layer of vernix, which is a fatty substance formed by the baby’s sloughed off dead skin cells and lipid cells, forms a protective barrier on the baby’s skin not unlike, say, Glossier’s Balm Dotcom. When the baby is born, there’s often vernix still present on the skin. The new thinking is that it should stay there.

“The bacteria the baby has on his or her skin are supposed to be there. The vernix protective cover over the skin after birth is supposed to be there,” says Dr. Ian Holzman, the chief of newborn medicine and professor of pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “The idea of washing all of that and the good bacteria off doesn’t make a lot of sense.” He notes that over the last few years there have been increased requests from parents for staff to hold off on bathing newborns. Maiysha Campbell, who has been a doula (a person who assists in providing comfort measures to women in labor) for six years says, “In 2010 [hospital staff] were like ‘Eww’ and now they say, ‘OK, fine.’”

While there isn’t a lot of scientific data to show that it’s better for babies in the long term — sorry, you can’t yet blame your mom for your dry skin if she gave you a bath right after you were born — it makes sense both clinically and from a common sense standpoint. “Babies’ skin gets cracked looking after seven or 10 days. Adding water and washing off all that fatty stuff is probably not good for the baby,” Dr. Holzman says. Not to mention that plunging a naked newborn, who has been used to the hot tub-esque temperatures of mom’s uterus, is traumatic. Babies can’t regulate their temperatures very well after they’re born, and Campbell has seen many babies taken away from their mothers and put under a heat lamp after they’re bathed. “For [babies] it’s really extreme. They have trouble breathing so now you’ve created an emergency,” she says.

Taking the baby away from the mother can also potentially affect immediate bonding and breastfeeding, though there’s no data that this can affect your relationship with your mom long-term. (The next time you and your mom are fighting like cats and dogs, yelling, “Well, maybe you shouldn’t have given me a bath when I was born!” won’t work. Sorry.) In general, babies want and need to be around their moms, so whisking them away right after birth isn’t awesome.

The baby won’t be stinky and dirty, though. Elodie Dupuy, 32, had a baby seven months ago and opted not to bathe her for six days after birth. “They wiped her down with a towel. She looked fine. Her hair wasn’t dirty,” Dupuy says. “She had what looked like dry lotion between her fingers. You couldn’t tell she hadn’t been cleaned off.” She wiped off her bottom when necessary, ahem, but otherwise didn’t submerge her in water. And no, the baby didn’t smell bad either.

So, what practical lessons can we learn from newborn babies and their vernix?

• Since we no longer have vernix, get some lotion onto your dry winter skin while you’re still damp right out of the shower to lock in moisture and prevent extreme dryness. Or even better, try one of the new in-shower lotions, which is kind of like emerging from the warm womb covered with amazing vernix, if you think about it. Olay, Jergens, and Nivea all make versions.

• Your mom probably needs a hug. Much like you probably weren’t happy to be separated from her when you were a baby, she probably feels the same way now that you’re an independent person.


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