Data for this study on skin care practices and emollient use in four African sites were collected using in-depth interviews, focus-group discussions and observations. Respondents were mothers, grandmothers, fathers, health workers, birth attendants and people selling skin-care products. Analysis included content and framework analyses.
Emollient use was a normative practice in all sites, with frequent application from an early age in most sites. There were variations in the type of emollients used, but reasons for use were similar and included improving the skin, keeping the baby warm, softening/strengthening the joints/bones, shaping the baby, ensuring flexibility and encouraging growth and weight gain. Factors that influenced emollient choice varied and included social pressure, cost, availability and deep-rooted traditional norms. Massage associated with application was strong and potentially damaging to the skin in some sites.
Given the widespread use of emollients, the repeated exposure of newborns in the first month of life and the potential impact of emollients on mortality, trials such as those that have been conducted in Asia are needed in a range of African settings.