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Wednesday, 29 August, 2001, 17:55 GMT 18:55 UK
An end to nappy rash
Babies in nappies
Nappy rash is associated with a drop in the skin's acid levels
Keeping babies bottoms slightly acidic could help prevent nappy rash, say scientists.

Researchers from the US said nappy rash was known to be associated with a rise in the skin's pH levels caused by urine-soaked nappies.

But treatments to deal with nappy rash do little to combat the pH level problems.

The skin's acidity is usually about pH 5. Possible explanations for this have included the generation of acid by friendly bacteria or secretions from glands.

This is absolutely key to understanding skin

Dr Steven Hoath, of the University of Cincinnati, in Ohio

Skin pH levels

Scientists say these theories have assumed that because the skin's outer layers are dead that they play no active part in the process.

But Dr Peter Elias and his team at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in San Francisco, said the assumption that the skin's cells are dead is completely wrong.

Dr Elias said: "Biochemically, it is anything but dead."

He said that although the cells were no longer dividing that they still contain active enzymes, which break large fat molecules called phospholipids into smaller fatty acids.

He said these compounds formed part of the glue that helps hold the cells together.

By stopping this process Dr Elias and his team found they could decrease the levels of acid in the skin.

When they did this they saw the skin was losing water four times as fast as normal and that the cells were detaching from the skin's surface nearly five times as fast.

Beating skin problems

They studied the skin under a microscope and found that the rivets holding the skin cells together had broken down, making the skin more susceptible to conditions like nappy rash.

Dr Elias said that as well as helping deal with nappy rash that creams that inhibit fatty acid production could also be used to beat warts and calluses.

Dr Steven Hoath, a paediatrician and skin specialist at the University of Cincinnati, in Ohio said: "This is absolutely key to understanding skin, how disease affects it and therapeutic strategies.

"It makes sense that anything that touches the skin should be designed to maintain its normal physiology."

The study, from the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, is published in New Scientist.

See also:

25 Sep 00 | Health
Nappy 'link to infertility'
17 Apr 99 | UK
The bottom line on nappies
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