Background/aims: Vernix caseosa is a proteolipid biofilm synthesized by the human fetus, which progressively covers the fetal skin surface during the last trimester of pregnancy. The exact physiological functions of vernix are unclear. Hypothetically, it serves a role in “waterproofing” the fetus during the critical period of epidermal barrier development before birth. Vernix may also play a role in adaptation of the fetal skin surface to the dry, cool extrauterine environment after birth. Given the strategic position of vernix on the fetal skin surface and the rapidly changing environment encountered by the skin at birth, we proposed that investigation of vernix surface characteristics would facilitate understanding its putative physiological roles. Methods: In this paper, we focused on the determination of the surface free energy (SFE) of vernix caseosa. Different approaches were used to calculate the SFE of vernix from contact angle (θ) measurements between vernix and various liquids (benzyl alcohol, diiodomethane, glycerol, and water). The critical surface tension (CST) of vernix was calculated using Zisman plots. The dispersive and the polar components of vernix SFE were calculated using the Owens–Wendt geometric mean method. Vernix was contrasted with petrolatum, a commonly used skin protectant. Results: CST of fresh vernix was 40.5 dyne/cm while that of petrolatum was 35.8 dyne/cm. Fresh vernix polar SFE was 1.5 dyne/cm while petrolatum had almost no polar SFE component (0.03 dyne/cm). For all liquids (except the nonpolar diiodomethane) there was a significant decrease in contact angle with time. Conclusions: The CST and the total SFE values suggest that vernix has very low surface energy and is highly unwettable. These findings are significant insofar as the main component in vernix is water, which is highly energetic. Although vernix has a very high water content, the major part of its SFE is hydrophobic (dispersive). The limited interaction between vernix and hydrophilic liquids supports the hypothesis that vernix acts as a natural protectant cream to “waterproof” the fetus in utero while submerged in the amniotic fluid.
Skin Research and Technology – Wiley
Published: Feb 1, 2001
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