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Skin problems health centre

Types of emollient

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Soap substitutes

Certain skincare products can remove your skin's surface layer of natural oils. These include:

  • soaps
  • shampoos
  • ordinary bubble baths
  • shower gels

This can make your skin dry and can further aggravate long-term (chronic) skin conditions such as eczema.

Soap substitutes, such as aqueous cream or emulsifying ointment, can be used instead of soap for hand washing and bathing. Aqueous cream can also be used as a substitute for shaving foam.

Using soap substitutes

Mix a small amount of soap substitute in the palm of your hand (about a half to one teaspoonful) with a little warm water, and spread it over damp or dry skin. Rinse and pat the skin dry, but do not rub.

If you are using a soap substitute and you are also using anti-psoriasis treatment, apply the soap substitute first. Allow 30 minutes after using a soap substitute before applying the anti-psoriasis treatment.

Some people may have a reaction to aqueous cream when it is used as an emollient. For this reason, it is recommended only as a soap substitute and not as a leave-on emollient. However, if your skin stings after using aqueous cream and does not settle down after rinsing, speak to your GP or pharmacist about an alternative soap substitute.

Emollient bath additives

Emollient bath additives can be added to a lukewarm bath to help prevent the loss of moisture from your skin. Bath additives can make surfaces slippery, so always use a non-slip mat and be careful when getting yourself or your child out of the bath.

Some bath oils include an antiseptic which can help prevent infection. However, these products should only be used occasionally unless the infection is recurrent or widespread.

Never use more than the recommended amount of bath additive. If the concentration is too high, it may cause skin irritation, particularly when used with antiseptic bath oils.

Emollient creams and ointments

Emollient creams are less greasy than emollient ointments. They are easy to spread, absorb easily into the skin and are good for use during the daytime. Emollient creams can be used on weeping eczema.

Emollient ointments are most suitable for very dry, thick skin and are not suitable for use on weeping eczema. Find one that is best suited to your or your child's condition and lifestyle.

Occasionally, emollient creams may sting when they are first applied to very dry skin. This usually settles down after a few days of treatment. If it persists, it may be due to a reaction to a preservative in the cream. If this occurs, talk to your GP or pharmacist about possible alternative emollients, such an emollient ointment.

Medical Review: June 20, 2010

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