Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that has high prevalence throughout the world and is most common seen in children. Parents sometimes find that it can be very difficult to watch their child suffer from this condition, thus leading them to seek medical advice. One age-old recommendation was put to the test and was shown to potentially be detrimental.
Olive oil or sunflower oil has historically been recommended as an old remedy for dry skin, particularly in babies. However, not much research has been done to validate these recommendations. A study was conducted at Saint Mary’s Hospital by The University of Manchester found that using such oils actually damages the skin barrier. One hundred and fifteen babies were split into 3 groups receiving either olive oil, sunflower oil, or nothing for a total of 28 days. The results of the study were compelling in that the skin barrier development in babies were found to be delayed.
The skin barrier is constructed of skin cells held together by various components. One core component, the lipid lamellae, is essential to preventing water from escaping and also does not allow the penetration of foreign bodies. What was observed and further hypothesized was that these oils hinder the development of the lipid lamellae in babies and could be linked to skin barrier dysfunction and the development of eczema.
The study results and its implications are yet to be fully understood. Olive oil and sunflower oil may, in its own right, may have medical benefits in addition to being a staple of the culinary arts. But as this study demonstrates, there is an unclear balance of risk versus benefit, and thus this recommendation should be approached with caution. Seek your dermatologist’s guidance before trying home remedies and other homeopathic treatments. As this study shows, it may do more harm than good.