Vernix caseosa is a white, creamy biofilm that coats babies during the last trimester of pregnancy. It’s known to serve multiple roles in baby care and keeps them comfortable during their transition from the womb to the world. Here's an overview of what Vernix caseosa is and why it’s important for newborn babies.

What is vernix caseosa?

Vernix caseosa is a white, waxy coating that may cover the entire skin surface or only be confined to body folds. It’s made up of water (81%), lipids (9%), and proteins (10%). The vernix may serve various protective functions as the baby transitions from in- to extra-uterine life, including:

  • Provide a lubricating barrier to the mother’s uterus walls
  • Trap moisture on baby’s skin
  • Regulate the baby’s temperature
  • Stabilize blood sugar levels
  • Promote healing

Mention of the vernix caseosa first appeared in 1846 in the Dunglison dictionary of Medical Sciences, and it still fascinates the medical community to this day. Let’s dive a little deeper into its purpose post-delivery.

Vernix caseosa is believed to help protect the baby’s skin against chemicals in the amniotic fluid, as well as decrease water loss through evaporation.

The benefits of vernix caseosa

Vernix caseosa is believed to help protect the baby’s skin against chemicals in the amniotic fluid, as well as decrease water loss through evaporation. This helps to keep the baby’s body temperature stable during labor and childbirth. It also reduces friction between the skin and other materials, such as amniotic membranes or surgical gloves.

In addition to these protective functions, scientific studies indicate that vernix caseosa may be beneficial for stimulating neonatal skin development. It contains both proteins and human milk fat globules which may help nurture healthy cell development after birth. The presence of vitamin E and melanin is said to offer antioxidant properties.

The substance has potent anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties; helping minimize or reduce inflammation caused by exposure to pathogens or irritants. These same properties can enhance immune responses for the baby in later stages of life – due to natural exposure to irritants such as dust mites or animal dander – thereby improving overall resistance against respiratory illnesses like asthma, allergies, and more serious forms of lung disease.

Lastly, vernix is believed to increase skin metabolism in vitro by increasing glucose consumption and lactate production. It forms an epidermal barrier and promotes perineal lesions that can occur during delivery. 

Should you clean off baby's vernix caseosa?

Most medical practitioners say it isn’t necessary to rub or clean off a baby's vernix as soon as they're born– unless doctors have recommended doing so due to health concerns or other pre-existing conditions. When left alone, this natural coating typically flakes off over time right along with peeling lanugo hairs within 2-3 days after birth. In addition, once mom begins breastfeeding, her milk will help the skin naturally exfoliate one layer at a time until all debris is removed while leaving behind moisturizing qualities on the baby's delicate skin.

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Please note: and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances. 

February 22, 2023 — Stephanie McClintock