Treat Your Skin With Emollient!
Emollients moisturize dry skin and prevent healthy skin from becoming dry. It is recommended that if you have eczema, or your child has eczema, emollients can be applied as often as you need. If you have dry skin or eczema, this can be 2-3 times a day. Applying emollients 2-3 times a day can be time consuming but many that suffer from eczema say it is worth it and can prevent eczema from flaring.
What is eczema/dermatitis?
The terms eczema and dermatitis mean much the same. That is, an inflammation of the skin. It causes red, itchy skin which may also blister. There are two main types of dermatitis/eczema:
- Atopic eczema. This is caused by a problem from within the body. If you have atopic eczema you are born with a tendency for your skin to become inflamed. Various parts of the skin tend to flare up with inflammation from time to time.
- Contact dermatitis. This is caused by a substance from outside the body. This typically causes patches of inflammation on areas of skin which have come into contact with the substance. If you avoid the offending substance, the skin inflammation should go away.
What Are Emollients?
Emollients are lotions, creams, ointments, moisturizers or oils. Emollients are used to keep the skin supple and moist. Regular application of emollients is very important as a day-to-day treatment for individuals suffering with eczema.
How Do Emollients Work?
Eczema skin is very dry and cracked. This dry, cracked skin often becomes inflamed and turns into patches of eczema. Emollients puts much needed moisture into the irritated skin to help it repair itself and the layer of emollient protects it from irritants. Protecting from irritants can also prevents inflammation and itching and can reduce the amount of flares. In summary, emollients can reduce eczema flare-ups and minimize the symptoms of eczema.
What types of moisturiser (emollient) are there?
There are many types and brands of emollients, ranging from runny lotions to thick ointments. The difference between lotions, creams and ointments is the proportion of oil (lipid) to water. The lipid content is lowest in lotions, intermediate in creams and highest in ointments. The higher the lipid content, the greasier and stickier it feels and the shinier it looks on the skin. As a general rule, the higher the lipid content (the more greasy and thick the emollient), the better and longer it works but the messier it is to use.
How to Choose an Emollient?
Emollients can range from thin water based lotions to thick, greasy ointments. The difference between emollients (lotions, creams, ointments) is the amount of lipid oil ratio to water. Lotions have the least amount of lipids and ointments have the highest amount of lipids. Creams are between lotions and ointments. The higher the lipid amount, the greasier and stickier it feels. Unfortunately, the greasy, sticky emollients are far superior for eczema. They protect and treat better and last longer on the skin. The best way to manage emollients is to apply a dry wrap or a damp wrap and dry wrap over the damp wrap. This type of wrapping is called dry and wet wrap therapy for eczema. This type of treatment is extremely effective and has been advocated by doctors as a safe and effective treatment for eczema for 20 years. This type of treatment is not only extremely effective, it also cuts the needs for drugs with side effects such as topical steroids. These wrap helps the emollient stay on the eczema and makes it less messy for the individual applying it. Dry wrapping is effective with mild to moderate eczema. Wet wrapping is ideal for moderate to severe eczema. The damp wrap in wet wrapping infuses much needed moisture into the inflamed eczema allowing it to repair the skin barrier. Wet wrap therapy also calms the itch during treatment so it is very helpful at minimizing the symptoms of eczema. It is very important to make sure the dry wrap and or wet wrap is the proper fabric for eczema. Breathable, natural fabrics are required for proper treatment. There are specialty medical undergarments for wet and dry wrap therapy. Although they are expensive, they are far superior for treating eczema and extremely comfortable and soothing to the sufferer. This is not the case with cotton or synthetic fabrics. Cotton can be rough to the eczema sufferers’ skin and when wet it becomes baggy, loose and uncomfortable. Synthetic fabrics should not be used and are not recommended for wet and dry wrap therapy. If you are planning to purchase specialty medical wet and dry wrap therapy garments, make sure they are regulated by the FDA. There are some new companies attempting to sell these specialty medical undergarments in the U.S. without registering with the FDA. Their fabrics are synthetic and unregulated. Be careful what you are applying to your eczema or your child’s eczema. They may be cheaper than FDA designated garments, but they are also unregulated and risky to use especially on inflamed, red, irritated eczema.
Which is the best moisturiser (emollient) to use?
There is no best buy. The type (or types) to use depend on the dryness of your skin, the area of skin involved and your preference. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can advise on the types and brands available and ones which may best suit you. For example:
- If you only have mild skin dryness and flare-ups of eczema do not happen often, a lotion or cream may be best.
- With moderate-to-severe dryness then a thicker cream or an ointment is usually best. Creams are less messy but need to be put on more often than ointments.
- A lotion is often best for areas of hairy skin.
- For areas of weeping eczema, a cream or lotion is usually best, as ointments will tend to be very messy.
- Pump dispensers are better than pots because they are less likely to harbour germs. If you need to use a pot, use a clean spoon or spatula to get the contents out, rather than your fingers.
How do I use and apply moisturisers (emollients)?
Creams, ointments and lotions
Whenever you use an emollient, apply it liberally to the affected area of skin. Emollients should be applied by smoothing them into the skin along the line of hair growth, rather than rubbing them in. You cannot overdose, as emollients do not contain active medicines which pass through the skin. If you wash, or have a bath or shower, apply an emollient to washed areas as soon as possible afterwards in addition to any other times that you use emollients. Also, apply after swimming.
Many people mix and match different emollients to suit their needs and daily routine. For example:
- Many people use a thick ointment as a soap substitute, as normal soap tends to dry the skin.
- Some people use an ointment at bedtime for the night but prefer a less messy cream during the day.
- Some people use an ointment on some areas of the body which are particularly dry and use a cream on the rest of the body.
- Some people use an ointment when their skin is particularly dry but switch to a cream when their skin is not too bad.