Petroleum Jelly Might Be The Answer To A $3.8 Billion Health Problem

Kermit Williams Jr. | 12/13/2016, 1:56 p.m. | Updated on 12/13/2016, 1:56 p.m.
On the surface, eczema may seem like an ailment that is more annoying than debilitating. But for the more than ...

Whether or not preventing eczema would also prevent the allergies, hay fever and asthma that come along with it is yet another unsolved question. But there’s a growing body of data that suggests that atopic dermatitis does in fact makes individuals more susceptible these comorbidities, which some doctors refer to as the “atopic march.”

Vaseline petroleum jelly is one of the moisturizers recommended for the treatment of eczema by the National Eczema Association, though not as a prophylactic treatment. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends petroleum jelly as one of the top choice moisturizers for treating (not necessarily preventing) eczema, including atopic dermatitis, because it’s among the most moisturizing.

Plus, it’s safe, Xu said. Petroleum jelly is fragrance-free and doesn’t have preservatives or additives that could potentially cause irritation or other allergies, he added. That said, some people may still avoid it for political or environmental reasons: Petroleum jelly is actually a byproduct of the oil refining process.

Sunflower seed oil was the second cheapest moisturizer in the study, costing $18.25 for six months of using it daily on a newborn, and may be a solid choice for those who want to avoid petroleum jelly.

Not all infants need a daily moisturizer

Ready to slather your infant with Vaseline tonight? Not without talking to your pediatrician first, Xu said.

It’s important to note that the initial study only included babies who were already considered high-risk of developing atopic dermatitis: They each had a parent or sibling who had at some point been diagnosed with eczema, asthma or hay fever.

Larger studies with longer follow-up are still needed ― and are currently ongoing ― to confirm that the method continues to prevent atopic dermatitis in babies who were moisturized beyond the first six months of their lives. But at this point, the data is encouraging, since nearly half of all individuals who develop eczema do so in the first year of their lives, Xu said.

So far, the research only suggests that using a daily moisturizer on newborns could be a good idea for babies at high risk. The risk of trying this intervention is low, even if it ultimately doesn’t prevent atopic dermatitis.

“Gentle, bland moisturizers have very little to no risk of harm to newborns,” Xu said, adding it’s definitely reasonable for parents with infants who are at high risk of developing atopic dermatitis to ask their pediatricians about using a moisturizer as a preventative measure.

And at just more than $7 for the full six months of petroleum jelly, it’s not that expensive to do.

Sarah DiGiulio is The Huffington Post’s sleep reporter. You can contact her at sarah.digiulio@huffingtonpost.com.