Petrolatum: Barrier repair and antimicrobial responses underlying this "inert" moisturizer

Tali Czarnowicki, Dana Malajian, Saakshi Khattri, Joel Correa da Rosa, Riana Dutt, Robert Finney, Nikhil Dhingra, Peng Xiangyu, Hui Xu, Yeriel D. Estrada, Xiuzhong Zheng, Patricia Gilleaudeau, Mary Sullivan-Whalen, Mayte Suaréz-Fariñas, Avner Shemer, James G. Krueger, Emma Guttman-Yassky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Petrolatum is a common moisturizer often used in the prevention of skin infections after ambulatory surgeries and as a maintenance therapy of atopic dermatitis (AD). However, the molecular responses induced by petrolatum in the skin have never been assessed. Objective We sought to define the cutaneous molecular and structural effects induced by petrolatum. Methods Thirty-six healthy subjects and 13 patients with moderate AD (mean SCORAD score, 39) were studied by using RT-PCR, gene arrays, immunohistochemistry, and immunofluorescence performed on control skin, petrolatum-occluded skin, and skin occluded with a Finn chamber only. Results Significant upregulations of antimicrobial peptides (S100A8/fold change [FCH], 13.04; S100A9/FCH, 11.28; CCL20/FCH, 8.36; PI3 [elafin]/FCH, 15.40; lipocalin 2/FCH, 6.94, human β-defensin 2 [DEFB4A]/FCH, 4.96; P <.001 for all) and innate immune genes (IL6, IL8, and IL1B; P <.01) were observed in petrolatum-occluded skin compared with expression in both control and occluded-only skin. Application of petrolatum also induced expression of key barrier differentiation markers (filaggrin and loricrin), increased stratum corneum thickness, and significantly reduced T-cell infiltrates in the setting of "normal-appearing" or nonlesional AD skin, which is known to harbor barrier and immune defects. Conclusions Petrolatum robustly modulates antimicrobials and epidermal differentiation barrier measures. These data shed light on the beneficial molecular responses of petrolatum in barrier-defective states, such as AD and postoperative wound care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1091-1102.e7
JournalJournal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • antimicrobial peptides
  • atopic dermatitis
  • barrier
  • innate immunity
  • moisturizer
  • occlusion
  • patch tests
  • Petrolatum
  • skin surgeries


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