Eczema Ointments, Creams, Lotions — Where to Start?
If you suffer from eczema, you probably have a cupboard full of emollients, pots of ointments, tubes of creams, and the latest miracle creams. Read on to understand more about the mounting pile of creams cluttering your desk.
Patients with eczema have a weaker outer layer of skin. This makes it more difficult for the skin to keep in water. Additionally, the skin is also deficient in natural surface oils. And finally, the skin is more sensitive to invasion from foreign substances such as bacteria, irritants and allergens. Eczema skin has its fair share of battles, resulting in dry and itchy skin. The weapon in tackling these battles is the trusted emollient.
Emollients help to soften the skin by soothing and hydrating, almost acting like a second skin. Religious use of emollients is critical 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. There are three different types, ointments, creams and lotions.
Ointments — are most effective if the skin is dehydrated and thickened. Ointments have a high oil content and the least water content; hence are usually ‘greasy’. So they're often best suited for evening and nighttime use.
Creams — these are good for daytime use as they are less greasy and absorbed more quickly. They contain a mix of oil and water content and are the go-to when you're out and about.
Lotions — have the most water content, so they are thin and spread quickly, but unfortunately, they are not very moisturising. However, they are more suitable for hairy or damaged areas of skin (often best used for the scalp).
Mixing and matching your emollients is a good idea; try to find a regime that works for you and fits in with your lifestyle. A common routine is to use creams during the day and ointments at night.
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 the 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 regular soap but are just as effective at cleaning your skin. Be careful, though, as they can be slippery, and diving 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 be wearing your emollient liberally, at least 3–4 times a 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 from 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 overuse is impossible!
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, preventing contamination and reducing infection risk.
If you are trying a new emollient, test patch a small amount (size of a pea) and wait 24 hours 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 guidance in wading through the world of emollients.
Learning more about your eczema and its management is crucial. However, the overwhelming amount of information online can be hard to understand and keep track. Proton Health includes a science-based programme which provides more hints and tips on effectively managing your eczema.