Emollient (moisturiser) therapy is often used to manage a number of skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis. However, with such a wide variety of emollients available on the market today, the ISF nurse team are often asked what products are the best fit for people who need to use emollients regularly.
In this video, our Health Promotion Manager, Michelle Greenwood, sits down with Dermatology Advanced Nurse Practitioner, Carmel Blake, to provide a general overview and guide on emollients: how they work; the different types; best practice for application; how much to use; and some other tips and tricks to help you with your emollient therapy routine.
What are emollients?
Emollients are moisturisers that come in the form of lotions, creams and ointments. They repair and protect the skin barrier. They hydrate and trap moisture in the skin. Emollient therapy improves symptoms resulting in decreased dryness, flaking, cracking, scaling, resulting in reduced itch and inflammation.
Emollients are used in two ways . Leave on emollient or wash emollient. A leave-on emollient is applied directly to the skin to moisturise and trap moisture. Wash emollient comes in the form of a soap substitute as an alternative to soap, emollient body wash in place of shower gel, or emollient bath additive or bath oil instead of bubble bath. Soaps, shower gels and bubble-bath should be avoided as they contain detergents, which strip away the natural oils and dries out the skin.
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For what skin conditions are emollients commonly used?
Emollients are commonly used for psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, dry and itchy skin or skin that is inflamed.
Choosing the right emollient for you
Finding the right emollient is often a matter of trial and error, but the best emollients are ones you (or your child) prefer to use and will continue to use every day.
Practical tips for emollient therapy
- Establish a good daily skin care routine and try to stick to it.
- Don’t stop moisturising when your skin is clear.
- Emollients tend to be bland and fragrance-free (unperfumed); ask your healthcare professional for advice.
- Apply emollients in a smooth, downward motion, in the direction of the hair growth.
- Never stick your fingers into a tub of emollient – Remember to use a CLEAN spatula, spoon or a pump dispenser to apply your emollient so it does not become contaminated.
- A child with inflamed skin often requires a minimum of 250g of ‘leave-on’ emollient per week, while an adult may need approximately 500g – 1000g per week.
- Bathwater should be a lukewarm temperature. 5 minutes with an emollient bath additive is sufficient.
- Remember – avoid soap, bubble bath and shower gel! Use soap-free (soap substitute) products for bathing and specially formulated shampoos.
- After bathing or showering, gently pat skin dry and apply emollient all over when the skin is still slightly damp.
It is very important to establish the right diagnosis and management approach, so if you are concerned about your skin, you should always speak with your doctor.
CAUTION: This article mentions ‘emollients’ (moisturisers). According to the British Association of Dermatologists: “Emollients, creams, lotions and ointments contain oils which can catch fire. When emollient products get in contact with dressings, clothing, bed linen or hair, there is a danger that a naked flame or cigarette smoking could cause these to catch fire. To reduce the fire risk, patients using skincare or haircare products are advised to be very careful near naked flames to reduce the risk of clothing, hair or bedding catching fire. In particular smoking cigarettes should be avoided and being near people who are smoking or using naked flames, especially in bed. Candles may also risk fire. It is advisable to wash clothing daily which is in contact with emollients and bed linen regularly”.
If you need guidance or support about managing a skin disorder, contact the ISF Helpline for free assistance and information.