Emollients: Types, uses for eczema and psoriasis, tips

Emollients, or moisturizers, help keep the skin moist and supple by reducing water loss from the epidermis, the outer layer of skin.

They provide a protective film. For patients with conditions such as eczema or psoriasis, emollients are an essential part of daily skin care.

Emollients are found in many skin and beauty applications, such as lipsticks, lotions, and a wide range of cosmetic products. People who use moisturizers and emollients for eczema or psoriasis should avoid perfumed products.

An emollient is a humectant, a lubricant, and an occluder. Occlusion puts a layer of oil on the skin’s surface, slowing down water loss. A humectant enhances the surface of the skin’s capacity to hold water. A lubricant reduces friction when anything rubs against the skin.

This triple function helps skin cells on the surface of the skin to repair.

Emollients can usually be applied as often as necessary.


[emollient on elbow]
Emollients can reduce symptoms of cracked and dry skin.

Emollients may be medicated or nonmedicated.

Nonmedicated topical moisturizers contain occlusive agents, emollients, and humectants.

Occlusive agents coat the skin, forming a physical barrier that prevents the loss of water. Petrolatum, waxes, oils, and silicones are examples. They can be uncomfortable on the skin, so they may be combined with an emollient.

Emollients offer an occlusive barrier and they smooth flaky skin cells, to make the skin look smoother. Some spread more easily than others. Esters and oils can be used.

Humectants include ingredients such as glycerin, urea and pyrrolidine carboxylic acid. They attract water from the atmosphere and from the lower layers of skin to moisturize the surface of the skin. They can feel sticky, so they will be combined with other elements.

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The balance of these three elements will determine the type of moisturizer and its purpose.

Emollients also vary according to the ratio of oil, or lipid, to water. Lotions have a low lipid content, and but the lipid content of ointments. Emollients with high lipid contents are greasier and stickier. They also make the skin shinier.

Aloe vera gel has been found to help some people with mild to moderate psoriasis, but not all. The coating effect of the gel on the skin may provide benefits.

Some people are allergic to the ingredients in products, including aloe vera. To check for allergies, it is a good idea to apply some of the product to a dime-sized section of the arm, and wait 24 hours to see if there is any reaction, before applying it more widely.

For eczema and psoriasis

Moisturizers and emollients are recommended for people with eczema and psoriasis, at any age.

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