Emollients are non-cosmetic moisturisers which come in the form of creams, ointments, lotions and gels. Emollients help skin to feel more comfortable and less itchy. They keep the skin moist and flexible, helping to prevent cracks.
Creams contain a mixture of fat and water and feel light and cool to the skin. For this reason many people with eczema prefer creams for day time use. All creams contain preservatives and people can become sensitive to them, although this is not common.
Ointments do not contain preservatives. Ointments can be very greasy and some people find them cosmetically unacceptable. However, because they are very effective at holding water in the skin, they are useful for very dry and thickened skin. Ointments should not be used on weeping eczema – use a cream or lotion instead.
Lotions contain more water and less fat than creams, but are not very effective at moisturising the skin. However, they are useful for hairy areas of the body.
Used every day, emollients may be all you need to keep mild to moderate eczema under control.
Soap is very drying to the skin and so is best avoided by people with eczema. Hands are particularly at risk, as they are washed more frequently. Therefore, liquid soaps/cleansers and perfumed products should also be avoided as they tend to irritate skin with eczema.
Emollient soap substitutes do not foam but are just as effective at cleaning the skin as soap. Soap substitutes can either be applied before bathing, showering or washing, or while in the water.
There are a range of emollient bath oils available, which can also be used in the shower, either on a sponge, or applied all over the body before showering off.
How are emollients applied and when?
Apply emollients after bathing, while water is still trapped in the skin for extra hydration.
Use liberally and frequently – at least three times a day.
Apply gently in the direction of the hair growth. Never rub up and down vigorously as this could trigger itching, block hair follicles or create more heat in the skin.
Continue to use the emollient, even when the eczema has improved as this will help prevent flare ups.