By Paul Fassa
Health Impact News
A recent study in India was devised to give scientific authenticity for a traditional Indian practice of massaging newborns’ skin with coconut oil. The study was published by the Journal of Tropical Pediatrics, in September 2015 as “Topical Oil Application and Trans-Epidermal Water Loss in Preterm Very Low Birth Weight Infants-A Randomized Trial.”
The researchers’ objective was to determine coconut oil’s protection against trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL). There have been many attempts at resolving preterm and term birth water loss among newborns that are more along the technical lines of Western medicine’s hospital hardware.
This was the first study that focused on the traditional Indian method of massaging the infants with coconut oil.
How important is handling TEWL with newborns? This excerpt from another TEWL preterm infant study, which tested phototherapy with halogen spotlights to minimize transepedermal water loss, explains the importance of curbing TEWL in newborns, especially preterm infants.
“If… compensation of the high water losses in the preterm infant fails, dehydration, hypernatremia, and hyperkalemia may result, and it even may contribute to the complications of intraventricular hemorrhage and arrhythmia.”
That study, published in the journal Pediatric Research, determined that with halogen spotlight phototherapy there was still sufficient TEWL that need to be compensated with added water intake for preterm infants.
What the Indian Study Using Coconut Oil Determined
The researchers divided 72 newborns with very low birth weights randomly at 12 hours of age into two groups of 37 each. The median gestation period (pregnancy term) was 32 weeks, which means that most if not all of them were born before the normal gestation period of nine months.
One group was given coconut oil topically applied twice daily without massage. In order to create comparisons, both groups were monitored for trans-epedermal water loss (TEWL) every 12 hours. After seven days of applying coconut oil to the test group, swabs were taken from all infants’ outer bodies to determine and compare skin quality and bacterial levels.
The researchers discovered the coconut oil treated infants had significantly lower TEWL than the group that was not treated topically with coconut oil. Those coconut oil treated newborn infants were without skin bacterial colonization and displayed an overall better quality of skin than the untreated group.
Not many westerners will have the opportunity to apply coconut oil to their newborns unless they do home birthing with a competent midwife assisting. But we can all benefit from coconut oil’s hydrating, antioxidant, and antiseptic properties for our skin, well beyond what commercial cosmetic lotions and creams actually offer.