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Vernix and Lanugo

When your precious baby is born, don't be surprised to see him or her covered in what looks like white, waxy cheese. This creamy stuff is called vernix caseosa, Latin for "varnish" and "cheese," and acts like a waterproof barrier on your baby's skin, protecting it from the drying effects of months of submersion in amniotic fluid. In addition, scientists now believe that it may also have antibacterial and cleansing properties.

Vernix is made up of sebum (oil on the skin) and dead skin cells and is secreted by your baby's sebaceous glands in the second half of your pregnancy. The vernix will cover your baby's skin for the rest of your pregnancy and will begin to disappear just before birth. Some babies are born with a great deal of vernix still present (especially premature babies) while others will have just a little bit. Any residual vernix is removed during the baby's first bath, shortly after birth, or is reabsorbed into the skin.

Steven B. Hoath, MD, and his colleagues at the Skin Sciences Institute, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio have been studying vernix to determine how it protects the fetus in utero and helps newborns to adapt to life outside the womb. Their research suggests that vernix is a natural skin cleanser as well as an anti-infective, antioxidant, a moisturizer, and a wound-healing agent. It appears that the protein components of vernix contain several antibacterial polypeptides that protect against common bacterial and fungal pathogens.


Lanugo is a fine, downy layer of hair that covers your baby's body while he or she is in the womb. It helps to hold the vernix in place to ensure your baby's delicate skin doesn't become chapped by the long immersion in amniotic fluid. It first appears at about five months and for the most part falls off just before birth; however, many babies still have some lanugo at birth.


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