Impact of sunflower seed oil versus mustard seed oil on skin barrier function in newborns: a community-based, cluster-randomized trial

BMC Pediatr. 2019 Dec 23;19(1):512. doi: 10.1186/s12887-019-1871-2.


Background: Natural vegetable oils are widely used for newborn massage in many low resource settings. Animal models indicated that sunflower seed oil (SSO) can accelerate skin barrier recovery following damage, while other oils, including mustard oil (MO), may cause further skin barrier damage. The objective was to compare the effects of two SSO and MO used for routine massage on skin integrity in premature and full-term neonates.

Methods: This community-based cluster randomized controlled trial included 995 neonates assigned to full body massage with sunflower seed oil (SSO, intervention) or mustard seed oil (MO, standard practice) from July 2012-May 2014 in Sarlahi, Nepal. Skin integrity measures were evaluated over 28 days, including skin condition (erythema, rash, dryness), skin surface pH, stratum corneum (SC) cohesion/protein concentration, and transepidermal water loss (TEWL). Overall means and rates of change in these skin measures were compared between oil groups using bivariate random-effects models.

Results: 500 and 495 live born neonates received repeated massage with MO and SSO, respectively. Skin pH decreased more quickly for SSO than MO in the first week of life, with a difference in mean daily reductions of 0.02 (95% CI: 0.002-0.040). Erythema, rash and dryness increased (worsened) over days 1-14 then decreased by day 28, with no significant oil group differences. TEWL increased over time, with no significant oil group differences. Gestational age did not modify the effect; the slightly faster decrease in skin pH among SSO infants was similar in magnitude between term and preterm infants.

Conclusions: Oil type may contribute to differences in skin integrity when neonates are massaged regularly. The more rapid acid mantle development observed for SSO may be protective for neonates in lower resource settings.

Trial registration: (NCT01177111); registered August 6th, 2010.

Keywords: Emollient therapy; Massage; Mustard oil; Neonate; Skin; Skin barrier; Skin condition; Stratum corneum; Sunflower oil; TEWL; pH.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Male
  • Massage*
  • Mustard Plant
  • Plant Oils / pharmacology*
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena / drug effects*
  • Sunflower Oil / pharmacology*


  • Plant Oils
  • Sunflower Oil
  • mustard oil

Associated data