Functional skin adaptation in infancy - almost complete but not fully competent

Exp Dermatol. 2010 Jun;19(6):483-92. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0625.2009.01023.x. Epub 2010 Mar 23.


Early postnatal life is a period of active functional reorganization and cutaneous physiological adaptation to the extrauterine environment. Skin as the outermost organ of mammalians is endowed of multiple functions such as protection, secretion, absorption and thermoregulation. Birth stimulates the epidermal barrier maturation and the skin surface acidification especially in premature infants. In full-term infants the developed stratum corneum accomplishes competent barrier function, in contrast to prematures. Complete barrier maturation in preterm infants is fulfilled by 2-4 weeks of the postnatal life. However, in preterms with 23-25 weeks gestational age this process takes longer. Versatile regulatory mechanisms, namely skin surface acidity, calcium ion gradient and nuclear hormone receptors/ligands are interrelated in the complex postnatal newborn adaptation. The skin of newborns is adjusting quickly to the challenging environmental conditions of the postpartum. However, certain functions, for example, microcirculation, continue to develop even beyond the neonatal period, that is, up to the age of 14-17 weeks. Different environmental factors (for instance, dry and cold climate, diapers and cosmetic care procedures) influence the postnatal development of skin functional parameters such as stratum corneum hydration and the permeability barrier especially in premature infants. The aim of this article is to summarize the current knowledge on skin physiology in newborn and infants with a practical approach and to discuss the possible clinical consequences. This review offers the readership a critical and practical overview of skin physiology in newborns and infants. It emphasizes possible new research fields in neonatal and infantile skin physiology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Skin / blood supply
  • Skin / growth & development*
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena*