Collodian skin in a baby

Could you give me some information on what collodian skin is? What is this disorder and how can it affect a baby?

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Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

Some infants are born with a shiny, tight skin-like covering. This covering is made of a thickened layer of skin that is packed with water and is called a collodian membrane. After the baby is born, the water begins to evaporate, the covering begins to crack, and then this membrane is shed. Shedding usually occurs within 7 to 14 days, revealing reddened somewhat immature skin underneath. Sometimes the skin matures and heals well after the membrane is shed, however, the presence of this membrane may also be the first sign of a skin disorder called icthyosis.

There are problems which may occur as this collodian skin is shed:

  • The cracks that develop can become deep which may allow bacteria to enter the skin causing infection. There is not a lot that can be done to avoid this other than careful observation to make sure any infection that might develop is treated promptly. Sometimes infants are placed in a humidified environment to keep the water in the collodian skin from evaporating too fast.
  • Once the collodian skin is shed, the skin underneath often does not do a very good job of keeping water from evaporating. Our skin not only protects us from the environment, but it helps keep the water we have inside our bodies from evaporating away. The immature skin underneath the collodian membrane initially does not do this very efficiently. Therefore, these infants may also need to be observed to make sure they do not become dehydrated or have body-salt disturbances related to this increased water evaporation.

Think of the collodian skin like a fever: it is a symptom of some other illness. Sometimes a fever comes and goes away without us really knowing what caused it, but it doesn't have any long-term effects. However, sometimes the fever is the first sign of a serious disease. The collodian skin, itself, is not fatal. In fact, it may go away in a couple of weeks without causing any problems. However, it may be a harbinger of a more chronic skin disease.

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