Ask the Experts: Is it ok to put medicated oil on my tummy?

Ask the Raffles Medical Group Experts


I’m expecting my first baby and have a lot of pimples on my back and tummy. My doctor said that this is due to hormonal changes. Sometimes the itch is pretty bad. Is it ok to put medicated oil on my tummy? Will it get absorbed into the skin and affect my baby? I also seem to have developed a craving to smell mothballs! Why is this so?


Congratulations on your first pregnancy.

It is true that the pimples on your back and tummy are due to hormonal changes and calamine lotion offers only a temporary relief as it cools the skin.

During pregnancy, due to the elevated prolonged hormonal effects, the skin can sometimes get very dry. In some individuals, the sebaceous glands beneath the skin tries to compensate by producing more sebum, but instead of lubricating the skin, pimples erupt as the duct openings get blocked.

You can try applying a non-perfumed medicated body lotion twice to thrice a day and see if the skin condition improves. Most of the time this would suffice. In some extreme cases, a short course of antibiotics may be prescribed in conjunction with the topical creams.

For some people, they may experience a rash that appears as blotches on the skin and is very itchy. This condition is called PUPPP (pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy).

This condition is the most common dermatosis (skin condition) of pregnancy. The cause was unknown until recently when Dr Selim Aracting and colleagues from France reported studies linking PUPPP with cells from the developing baby (foetus). Their studies suggest that foetal cells can invade the mother’s skin during pregnancy, and in some way cause this skin disorder to develop.

It typically starts on the tummy and spreads to the thighs and occasionally spreads to buttocks and arms but the face is always spared. This commonly occurs in the third trimester around 34 weeks of pregnancy but the face is never involved. It may appear to look like pimples (raised bumps but is itchy). The condition is harmless to both baby and mother and resolves spontaneously after delivery. This is usually treated with steroid creams but in extreme cases, oral steroids may be prescribed. With regards to pregnancy related rash, it is still advisable to see your own Obstetrician.

As to your other queries, medicated oil contains methylated spirit and salicylate acid amongst other ingredients. At present, there is no evidence to show that topical salicylic acid is harmful to baby but small amounts do get absorbed into the skin. The occasional use of medicated oil for headache and mosquito bites is acceptable.

Mothballs contain camphor and naphthalene. In some households, mothballs are used as room deodorizer, which is no longer advisable. This is as prolonged exposure to the naphthalene fumes can cause headaches, nausea and occasional vomiting. These are signs of toxicity that can occur in all individuals. However in a group of individuals with a deficiency in the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD Deficiency), prolonged exposure and inhalation of mothballs may cause the red blood cells to break down spontaneously as the glucose-6- phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) enzyme that normally protects the red blood cells from specific chemical damage are absent.

I suspect that you find the mothball scent refreshing due to the camphor component. May I suggest you use natural essential oils that are sharp-smelling (eg bergamot, citronella or eucalyptus) instead.