What Is Vernix?

Newborn baby with a hat, covered in a layer of vernix

mvaligursky / Getty Images

It can be so exciting when you finally get to meet your newborn baby. But brand-new babies in real life don’t always resemble the freshly delivered infants that you see on television or movies. Instead of slippery and clean, real newborns can be a little, well. Messier. 

In fact, the first time you see your baby, you might notice a thin, patchy layer of white substance covering part of their skin. This is called vernix, though it's also known as vernix caseosa. In a nutshell, vernix is a protective layer on your baby’s skin that develops during the last trimester of pregnancy.

Vernix is composed of 80.5% water, 10.3% lipids, and 9.1% proteins. It’s typically white, and some people describe it as having a cheese-like appearance or texture. Others might say it appears waxy or greasy. We turned to some experts to learn more about what vernix actually is, and how it helps your newly born baby.

Why Is Vernix Important?

In utero, the vernix protects the baby’s skin from exposure to water while the outermost layer of skin, known as the stratum corneum, develops. It comes into contact with the amniotic fluid during this time, so your baby actually swallows or breathes some vernix via the amniotic fluid. This is believed to help ensure the functionality of surfactants in the lungs that will eventually assist your baby in breathing in the outside world. 

But consider childbirth and what your baby goes through during this momentous occasion. As the authors of a 2022 article in Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences put it, “Few events are as dramatic and ‘life changing’ as birth, when the human infant abruptly transitions from warm, wet, nurturing serene in utero conditions to a cooler, dry, gaseous, microbe laden environment.”

In other words, your baby’s skin is about to confront a different situation, and the vernix that develops during the third trimester may help with that transition. For example, it seems to provide some lubrication of the birth canal during childbirth. But there are additional benefits, too.

“Vernix helps to keep the infant's skin moisturized, keep them warmer, and even decrease risk of infection,” says Julie Goodwin, MD, an OB/GYN practicing in Little Rock, Arkansas.

In fact, research suggests that vernix functions as a moisturizer, a cleanser, and an anti-oxidant, and it even fights off infection. It might even help with temperature control.

Still, many misconceptions about vernix persist. “Many people mistakenly believe that vernix is a sign of uncleanliness or dirtiness,” says Leah Alexander, MD, a pediatrician in New Jersey and the medical consultant of Amy Baby Review. “In reality, vernix is a white, creamy substance that forms on the skin of newborns and helps protect them from drying out during childbirth.”

Should I Clean the Vernix From My Baby?

You might be tempted to clean the vernix off your baby right away—or ask someone else to do it for you. But experts suggest that it’s wise to let it remain intact for a little while to protect their delicate skin and help it stay hydrated. “It’s better to leave it alone and let it sort of dissipate naturally,” says Dr. Alexander, adding that it's best to wait at least 24 hours before giving your new baby a bath. Your healthcare provider might even suggest a longer wait.

On the other hand, if your physician decides it’s medically necessary to remove the vernix sooner—within 24 hours after birth—they may gently wipe it off with a moist cloth. 

But it’s best if you resist the urge to spot clean your baby yourself if it’s not deemed absolutely necessary. “Spot cleaning is not recommended, as it can be abrasive to your baby’s delicate skin and could potentially cause irritation,” says Dr. Alexander.

In fact, vernix can be difficult to wipe off due to its waxy nature, adds Dr. Goodwin.

What to Keep in Mind

As you’re waiting for the vernix to wear off or dissipate, try to keep the big picture in mind. 

“Vernix is normal,” says Dr. Goodwin. “Your sweet baby is cute even with a thick coating of vernix. Remember the benefits, and resist the urge to wash it all away in order to get the perfect picture.”

It should only take a day or two for it to slough off or dissipate on its own anyway, notes Dr. Alexander. “If the newborn’s skin appears dry or irritated during this period, parents should consult with their child's pediatrician for advice on how best to treat the problem,” she says. 

A Word From Verywell

Vernix may seem a little off-putting when you first encounter it on your new baby, but it serves a very important purpose—many important purposes, in fact. The white, creamy substance provides a protective layer for your baby's new skin. If you have questions or concerns about it, be sure to talk to your healthcare providers at your place of delivery, or turn to your child's pediatrician for guidance. They may be able to provide some additional support and information while you wait for the vernix to go away. 

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hoath SB, Pickens WL, Visscher MO. The biology of vernix caseosa. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2006;28(5):319-333. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-2494.2006.00338.x

  2. Bamalan OA, Menezes RG. Vernix caseosa. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  3. Nishijima K, Yoneda M, Hirai T, Takakuwa K, Enomoto T. Biology of the vernix caseosa: A review. J Obstet Gynaecol Res. 2019;45(11):2145-2149. DOI:10.1111/jog.14103

  4. Visscher MO, Carr AN, Narendran V. Epidermal immunity and function: origin in neonatal skin. Front Mol Biosci. 2022;9. DOI: 10.3389/fmolb.2022.894496

  5. Bamalan OA, Menezes RG. Vernix caseosa. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  6. Visscher MO, Utturkar R, Pickens WL, et al. Neonatal skin maturation--vernix caseosa and free amino acidsPediatr Dermatol. 2011;28(2):122-132. doi:10.1111/j.1525-1470.2011.01309.x

By Jennifer Larson
Jennifer Larson is a seasoned journalist who regularly writes about hard-hitting issues like Covid-19 and the nation's ongoing mental health crisis, as well as healthy lifestyle issues like nutrition and exercise. She has more than 20 years' of professional experience and hopes to log many more.