There are 3 types or methods of application of emollients:
- leave-on emollients – these are left on your skin once applied
- soap substitutes – used instead of soap and must be washed off your skin after a few minutes of application
- bath additives – also called bath emollients, which are added to bath water and are thought to leave a film of oil over the skin.
There are a variety of leave-on emollients, which range from less greasy to very greasy. The choice of emollient is based on how dry your skin is and your preference. Emollient products may also need to be changed depending on the season, eg, if you experience drier skin during winter, you may benefit from temporarily using a more greasy emollient.
|Types of leave-on emollients
|Light, non-greasy lotion
- These are referred to as mineral oil lotions. Examples include BK Lotion®, Alpha-Keri Lotion®, DP Lotion® and Hydroderm Lotion®.
- These products contain lanolin and may cause irritation in some people. This is more common in people who have atopic eczema.
Slightly greasy cream
- Examples include Cetomacrogol®, also known as Non-Ionic (healthE)® cream. Read more about cetomacrogol cream.
Moderately greasy cream
- Examples of these include Sorbolene with Glycerin®, healthE Urea Cream® and healthE Fatty Cream®.
- Do not apply urea-containing cream to cracked, broken or oozing skin.
Very greasy ointment
- Examples of these are petroleum jelly (Vaseline®) or Duoleum®.
- These are preferred for very dry or thickened skin.
How to use leave-on emollients
- Apply at least 2 times per day, or more if possible; 3 or 4 times is beneficial, especially when your skin is very dry and cracking.
- They may be used all over your body, including your face.
- Using emollients soon after a bath or shower can make them more effective. Apply after towel drying your skin. Do not rub your skin vigorously with a towel. Instead, gently pat your skin dry and apply the emollient.
- Emollients are best applied by dotting the product onto your skin then spreading it using a downward stroking motion. It's not necessary to spread the product until it is all absorbed.
- If your cream is in a pot, use a spatula or spoon to get the cream out (this keeps the cream clean).
- Apply cream or ointment in a downward direction or in the direction of hair growth to avoid blocking hair follicles.
- The quantity of leave-on emollient required will vary depending on your size and skin condition, and whether the emollient is also being used as a soap substitute.
- As a general guide, to treat your whole body, the recommended quantities used are 600 grams per week for an adult and 250–500 grams per week for a child.
These are also called wash-off emollients. Regular soap can be irritating to dry, inflamed or sensitive skin so soap substitutes are a good alternative. Two common soap substitutes are aqueous cream and emulsifying ointment.
- Some of them contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) which can irritate skin if left on for prolonged periods. This is fine if in contact with your skin for a short time, but if it contains SLS, it must be washed off. There are some products that are SLS-free and these may be left on the skin as a moisturiser.
- Soap substitutes should be gently rubbed onto your skin before rinsing off completely, or you can add them to bath water and soak in the bath for 10–20 minutes, then rinse them off.
- Take care when using soap substitutes – these can make the floor or surface slippery and increase the risk of falls. If you are using them for a baby, take care when you are holding the baby in the bath.
- Read more about aqueous cream and emulsifying ointment.
Bath additives (also called bath emollients) are bath oils or emulsifiers that are added to the bath water and are thought to leave a film of oil over your skin. When used for childhood eczema, a recent study found that bath additives are probably not effective and unlikely to lead to improvement in eczema. The authors advise to stop using bath emollients but to keep using leave-on emollients and soap substitutes. Read more about the study(external link).