Atopic dermatitis: Better to avoid emollients in childhood

Around 20% of all children develop atopic dermatitis in their first year of life. Does bathing in emollients at two months have a protective effect?

Emollients application and the effects on atopic dermatitis

Why bathe in emollients?

A risk factor for the development of atopic dermatitis is family history. If one or both parents suffer from the disease, the likelihood of the children becoming atopic also increases. Many parents therefore look for ways to prevent or slow down the development of the disease. It is therefore not uncommon for them to resort to emollients, which are added to the baby's bath.

The moisturisers are good for AD, aren't they?

Many people treat their manifest atopic dermatitis with emollients. Moisturisers are often recommended by dermatologists as the first choice. But can the skin care products also prevent or stop the development of AD? A recent study investigated this question. It collected data from over 2,000 infants who were bathed in the skin care products at the age of two months. Follow-up data on AD was available for around 1,500 of them.

Emollients: good for treatment, and good for prevention?

Study results indicated that baths in emollients during early childhood do not appear to protect against the development of atopic dermatitis. In the population analysed in the study, the use of baths was even associated with a significantly higher risk of developing AD within the first two years of life.

Unsurprisingly, a combination of baths and skin creams with moisturisers is also associated with an increased risk of AD. Children who were neither bathed in the substances nor moisturised with them had a significantly lower incidence of atopic dermatitis.

Main take-away

The study data suggest that the use of emollients in early childhood does not improve or strengthen the skin barrier in such a way that atopic dermatitis does not develop in the first place. On the contrary, bathing infants in the substances even appears to be associated with an increased risk of disease. Parents, especially those with infants at risk of AD, should therefore be informed that the use of skin care products does not appear to correlate with better outcomes. The study data show that in the cases analysed, the opposite was in fact the case.

  1. O'Connor C, Livingstone V, O'B Hourihane J, Irvine AD, Boylan G, Murray D. Early emollient bathing is associated with subsequent atopic dermatitis in an unselected birth cohort study. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2023 Jul;34(7):e13998. doi: 10.1111/pai.13998. PMID: 37492907.