People with eczema know that a good moisturizer is an essential part of their skin care regimen. Skin affected by eczema is prone to dryness, itchy rashes, and infections. Dermatologists sometimes prescribe medications such as topical steroids and eczema creams to stop inflammation. However, many people also rely on over-the-counter (OTC) moisturizers that can be bought without a prescription.
Moisturizers can take various forms:
Finding the right moisturizer for eczema can be frustrating. As one member of MyEczemaTeam wrote, “I constantly have to change moisturizers. I’ll find something that’ll work for a few months; then my skin goes through changes. My moisturizer is no longer effective, and I have to find a new one.”
You may need to test out several different types of moisturizers before you find the right one for your skin. Fortunately, many ingredients that can be found in OTC moisturizers have shown to be effective at protecting the skin’s barrier and treating eczema.
According to a report published in Dermatology Research and Practice, petrolatum (better known as petroleum jelly) has yielded “significant improvements” in people’s atopic dermatitis symptoms. Interestingly, OTC petroleum jelly products were found to be more effective than prescription petroleum jelly products.
Petroleum jelly is a very effective barrier for the skin that prevents moisture loss. However, some people with eczema find products that are 100 percent petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, can be too messy. However, dermatologists often recommend pure petroleum jelly as having the lowest potential to cause allergic reactions.
One MyEczemaTeam member reported having positive experiences with Aquaphor, which contains petroleum jelly and other ingredients. “Aquaphor does a good job as well. It’s not quite as greasy as Vaseline.”
Another member said they prefer Vaseline: “Vaseline is the only moisturizer that helps and doesn’t irritate my hands. I lather them up multiple times a day, as it has no alcohol in it to dry out your skin.”
Moisturizers containing colloidal oatmeal can also be beneficial. Colloidal oatmeal is oat grain that has been ground into a fine powder so that it can easily dissolve. It is commonly found in lotions, creams, and gels. Oatmeal is effective against itchy skin, and can also be used in a bath.
Colloidal oatmeal soothes and protects by providing barrier protection, which helps skin retain moisture. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. One member recommended oatmeal in all its forms: “Had a flare-up last week. I still believe oatmeal is a wonderful soother in soap, lotions, and by itself. It’s wonderful.”
Our skin naturally produces ceramides, lipid molecules with fatty acids that help protect the skin barrier. Studies have shown that people with eczema have reduced levels of ceramides. The addition of ceramides to creams and lotions has been a significant change to moisturizers that help with dry skin and eczema.
OTC moisturizers with ceramides include products from CeraVe, which some MyEczemaTeam members have found effective. One member wrote, “If you haven’t used it yet, try CeraVe. It is an excellent lotion.” Another member reported, “I often feel as if I have tried everything on the market for itching. However, I came across a lotion I’ve not yet tried. It’s CeraVe Itch Relief Moisturizing Cream. CeraVe products generally don’t work for me, but I have to say this one actually helps.”
Some people with eczema have found relief moisturizing with natural oils and butters, such as:
These oils and other naturally sourced emollients (skin-softening treatments) may be helpful for some people with eczema, but be aware of the potential for allergic reactions. Olive oil can show detrimental effects, and you should avoid it if you have sensitive skin.
Coal tar has a long history as an eczema treatment. Studies show that it is beneficial for distressed skin because it restores the protective properties of proteins in the skin barrier. Many OTC moisturizers have coal tar as an ingredient, and some can be found on this list from Mayo Clinic.
Urea, ammonium lactate, salicylic acid, and hyaluronic acid are other ingredients in moisturizers for people with dry, scaly skin. These ingredients peel away the top layer of skin, leaving smoother skin without scale, and they’re best for areas of thicker skin and very dry skin. There are both over-the-counter and prescription products containing these ingredients.
Remember that your skin may change over time, and a product that once worked well may stop providing relief. Furthermore, some products may work better than others depending on where flare-ups occur on your body.
In general, thicker and more emollient creams and ointments are better, but it needs to be a formulation that you can use often. For dry skin on the face, look for a fragrance-free moisturizer that is hypoallergenic and noncomedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores or cause acne.
For additional guidance, the National Eczema Association (NEA) has its “NEA Seal of Acceptance,” which appears on some OTC product packaging and indicates that a product may be safe for people with eczema. You can consult their directory of products that have been awarded the seal. Be aware that the seal is given only if a company applies for it, and some products may be effective even without the seal.
If you have any questions or concerns about selecting a moisturizer for your skin, talk to your doctor or dermatologist. They likely have additional insight on OTC products that could work for you.
With a dizzying array of moisturizers available without a prescription, it is easy to get confused about what is best for people with eczema. MyEczemaTeam members frequently share recommendations for products they find helpful:
When selecting a moisturizer for eczema-prone skin, always avoid ingredients, including fragrances, dyes, and irritants, that can cause allergic reactions.
The NEA’s list of ingredients that should be avoided includes:
There are different methods you can use for applying moisturizer to your skin. One effective method for people with eczema is called the soak and seal method.
Dry skin can be aggravated by wind, low humidity, cold air, harsh soaps and skin care products, and excessive washing. According to the National Eczema Association, bathing right before moisturizing is the most effective method for replacing moisture to dry skin. People with eczema should bathe at least once per day in lukewarm water and should always avoid hot water.
Showers or baths are equally effective but should be limited to 10 to 15 minutes. Avoid soap and scrubbing, using a gentle cleanser instead. If you are having a bad flare-up, you may want to cut back or stop using cleansers. Talk to your dermatologist about using bath treatments such as bath oil, baking soda, bleach, oatmeal, salt, or vinegar.
Immediately after bathing, gently pat your skin dry to avoid irritation and leave skin slightly damp. It is important to first apply any prescription ointments or topical treatments you may be using at the time. Moisturizers should be applied within three minutes to help seal in the moisture your skin has absorbed while bathing.
Before you get dressed or apply wet wraps, the moisturizer needs to be absorbed by your skin for at least a few minutes. This is the soak and seal method of moisturizing. Keep in mind that some moisturizers may take even longer to absorb. One member shared their experience: “My doctor has suggested Epaderm as a moisturizer. I’ve had very quick results, although it takes a good half hour to soak in. It’s great for overnight use.”
Set aside ample time to “soak and seal” and give your skin the care it needs. Dr. Margaret Lee, an instructor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, suggests that older children and adults with eczema might schedule a “spa time” before bedtime to bathe, moisturize, and decompress.
Here’s how a member described their evening treatment: “I took a warm bath with vinegar and baking soda. It really relieved the itchy burning sensation. Then, I moisturized with [prescription] triamcinolone and some colloidal oatmeal lotion. Man, it’s heaven.”
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