Emollients are essential in the management of dry skin conditions but are often underused. They reduce water loss from the epidermis resulting in softer, suppler skin.
They soothe, smooth and hydrate the skin and are indicated for all dry scaling disorders. Used regularly they may reduce flare ups of eczema and the need for corticosteroids.
They should be applied frequently because their effects are short-lived.
Aqueous cream and emulsifying ointment are used as soap substitutes for hand washing and in the bath.
Preparations containing an antibacterial should be avoided unless infection is present or is a frequent complication.
A wide range of products is available as patients can become sensitised to or intolerant to the product. Patients should use the least expensive emollient that is effective, cosmetically acceptable and which they are prepared to use regularly.
Generally, 'greasy' preparations provide the best emollient effect. For cosmetic reasons, patients may prefer a less oily preparation for daytime use, or for use on areas such as the face. Lotions have a cooling effect and are useful on hairy areas.
Patients with atopic eczema often find emollients cause stinging or irritation of the skin. Therefore an alternative preparation must be considered taking into account excipients.
Bath products can make the skin and surfaces slippery particular care is needed when bathing.