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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.

One of the most important elements in managing all types of eczema is to keep the skin soft and supple by frequent and generous use of emollients.

Emollients are available as creams, ointments and lotions, any or all of which might be suitable to use at different times, depending on whether a person's eczema reacts to a specific ingredient or ingredients in an emollient.

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.

Eczema Treatment - Soap Substitutes

Soap is very drying to the skin and is best avoided by people with eczema. The hands are particularly at risk, as they are washed more frequently. 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.

Bath Oils

Bubble baths are extremely drying and potentially irritating to people with eczema. A daily bath removes dirt and skin debris which could cause infection. There is 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.

Emollient shower gels are also obtainable and your GP or Nurse/Pharmacist will be able to advise you about the range of bathing products available.

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.

Which emollient should I use?

Finding the right emollient is a matter of trial and error, so the best emollient is the one you or your child prefers to use. Your GP, nurse or pharmacist should be able to advise you on the different products available and you find more information in our emollients factsheet and our emollients product list will give you a guide to what is available. Each of these is available to download in the related documents to the right of this page.

Emollient Facts

  • Emollients are not the same as cosmetic moisturisers. They are usually unperfumed and have no anti-ageing ingredients.
  • Used every day, emollients may be all you need to keep mild to moderate eczema under control.
  • Some products leave more oil on the skin than others, so finding what suits you best may be a process of trial and error.
  • You can use bath oils in the shower by putting them on a damp sponge or by applying them ‘neat’ all over your body before showering off.
  • Correct use of emollients can reduce the need for topical corticosteroids.

One of the most important elements in managing eczema is to keep the skin soft and supple by frequent and generous use of emollients.

Related documents