"It's unique. If you take some and rub it in your skin, the feel of it is very much like skin itself. It doesn't have the sticky feel of a moisturiser," said executive director of the Skin Sciences Institute Marty Visscher.
American researchers at the Skin Sciences Institute at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Centre in Ohio have been working on vernix for more than 10 years and are now trying to create a similar molecular structure artificially.
The primary aim is to help premature babies that lack vernix and whose skin has not fully formed but the substance could also end up becoming a nappy-rash cream, a lotion for psoriasis or a high performance moisturiser.
Vernix caseosa protects delicate fetal skin from amniotic fluid. It is produced by the sebaceous glands when the foetus is less than six inches in size during the nineteenth week of pregnancy.
Vernix has a unique composition that is 80 per cent water, 10 per cent fat and 10 per cent protein. It also contains high levels of antioxidant vitamin E, and proteins that stick to bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Scientists believe the key secret is the retention of large amounts of water inside specially adapted skin cells called foetal corneocytes.