• Dr Noreen Akram

Ointments, Creams, Lotions — Where to start?



Read on to understand a little more about the mounting pile of emollients cluttering your desk.

If you suffer from eczema, you probably have a cupboard full of emollients, pots of ointments, tubes of creams, the latest miracle cream you saw on Instagram (we have all been there). Read on to understand a little more about the mounting pile of creams cluttering your desk.

Why are emollients important?

Patients with eczema have a weaker outer layer of skin, resulting in the skin not retaining water properly. Adding to that, eczema skin is also deficient in natural surface oils. Ending the list, the skin is more sensitive to invasion from foreign substances such as bacteria, irritants and allergens. Eczema skin does have its fair share of battles, resulting in dry and itchy skin. The weapon in tackling these battles daily, is the trusted emollient.

Emollients soften the skin by soothing and hydrating, almost acting like a second skin. Religious use of emollients is key in keeping your eczema at bay, reducing dry and itchy skin and preventing infections and flare ups.

Different types of emollients?

So, what exactly is the difference between the many types of emollients. In a nutshell, emollients are split up depending on the level of oil and water content. The more oil content, the more moisturising they are.

Ointments — most effective if the skin is very dry and thickened. They do not sting and are suitable for sensitive skin. They have a high oil content and the least water content, hence are usually ‘greasy’. Ointments are your saviour, but unfortunately slathering them in-front of your colleagues may not be ideal.

Creams — good for daytime use as they are less greasy and absorbed more quickly. Your go-to when you are out and about.

Lotions — have the most water content, so are thin and spread easily, but unfortunately are not very moisturising. They may be suitable for hairy or damaged areas of skin (anyone that has had to endure scalp eczema will be familiar with lotions).

Mixing and matching your emollients is a good idea, try to find a regime that works for you and fits in with your lifestyle. Many people like using creams during the day and ointments at night.

“Our weapon in tackling these battles daily, is the trusted emollient”

Now, the sight of soap may make you shudder (probably for good reason). Many everyday soaps and shampoos tend to be fragranced and can dry out your skin. (As a rule of thumb, avoid products that foam). Using an emollient soap substitute for hand-washing and bathing can help to improve your eczema. They do not foam like normal soap, but they are just as effective in cleaning your skin. Do be careful though as they can be slippery, and taking a dive in your shower is not ideal.

How to apply your emollients correctly?

Application technique is just as important as the type of emollient you pick. *

  • You need to be wearing your emollient liberally, at-least 3–4 times a day, every single day.

  • Try to dab on some emollient after a lukewarm bath (pat your skin dry, please do not rub), to help lock in moisture.

  • Emollients should be smoothed into the skin in a downward direction, to prevent your hair follicles getting blocked.

This may sound cumbersome, but incorporate it into your daily routine and your skin will thank you. Remember, emollients are very safe, and it is impossible to overuse them!

“Unfortunately, there is no magic cure, but consistency is key to keeping your eczema at bay”

Keeping safe!

Lastly, some points on safety:

  • Keep away from fire, flames and cigarettes when using all types of emollients, as they can be flammable.

  • Use clean spoons to remove emollients from pots, as this prevents contamination and reduces infection risk.

  • If you are trying a new emollient, test patch a small amount (size of a pea) and wait 24 hrs to check for a reaction.

Unfortunately, there is no magic cure, but consistency is key to keeping your eczema at bay. If you are new to eczema, or have tried and tested every emollient out there, we hope this provides some guidance in wading through the world of emollients.

Learning more about your eczema and the management is crucial. With the overwhelming amount of information online, it can be hard to understand and keep track. EczemaDoc aims to include comprehensive patient education courses, using animated videos and patient-focused language, to equip patients to best manage their eczema.



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