Get the tools and support you need to best manage your eczema

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Controlling Eczema by Moisturizing

Eczema is a very common skin disorder that causes red, inflamed skin known as “dermatitis.” It is important to prevent dry skin — one of the most common triggers — which can cause your eczema to get worse. Setting up a good skin care routine, with daily treatments like moisturizing and bathing, is essential for successfully managing your eczema.

All moisturizers are not created equal

There are a lot of moisturizers on the market — learn which ones are safe for you or your child with eczema

  • Get the list of moisturizers, cleansers and hair care products that earned our Seal of Acceptance
  • Learn why it’s essential to moisturize within three minutes after bathing or showering
  • Understand the difference between “fragrance free” and “unscented” moisturizers and which can irritate your eczema
  • Don’t like greasy ointments like petroleum jelly? Discover the latest alternative products like hydrating gels and lubricants

Why is moisturizing so effective?

Keeping your skin’s moisture intact is one of the most important things you can do to help control your eczema. When your skin gets too dry, it can become irritated and cause your eczema to flare.

Wind, low humidity, cold temperatures, harsh soaps and too much washing without the use of a moisturizer, all lead to dry skin. So, it’s important to understand how and when to properly moisturize and which products are best to use when you have eczema.

Some things to remember when moisturizing:

  • If you use a prescription topical medication (steroids or a topical calcineurin inhibitor), apply it as directed, before you moisturize.
  • Apply a thick layer of moisturizer all over your skin within three minutes of bathing or showering to “lock in” moisture and protect the skin barrier.
  • Schedule your bathing and moisturizing routine at night, just before bed. This can help your skin better retain its moisture.
  • Moisturizers that are fragrance and dye-free are the safest and least irritating.
  • Do not use your hands to remove moisturizer from the container — this helps prevent contamination.
  • Soften moisturizer by rubbing it between your hands and then apply it to your body using the palm, in downward strokes. Avoid rubbing in the moisturizer by stroking up and down, or in circles.
  • If the moisturizer feels “tacky” on your skin, don’t remove the excess. It will be absorbed within a few minutes.
  • Moisturize hands every time you wash them or when they come into contact with water.
  • If you have hand eczema soak your hands in water, then follow with an application of your prescription medication (if you use one) and moisturizer. At night, apply moisturizer and wear cotton gloves over your hands while you sleep.

Why is it so important to moisturize after a bath or shower?

Water is an effective way to put moisture back into the skin, but only if you use lukewarm (not hot) water, avoid scrubbing and apply a moisturizer within three minutes after bathing or showering. This last step very important — if you don’t moisturize immediately afterward, the moisture your skin needs will evaporate.

What kinds of moisturizers are most effective for my eczema?

Not all moisturizers are created equal. In fact, there are many types of common moisturizers that aren’t good at helping control your eczema and may even make it flare up. It’s important to understand the differences between the three basic types of moisturizers — ointments, creams, and lotions — so that you can properly hydrate your skin and help keep your rash under control.

Moisturizers are classified based on the amount of oil and water they contain. The more oil in a moisturizer, the better it usually is at treating eczema. The best moisturizers to use are the ones that feel “greasy” (ointments and creams), because they contain more oil. These are very effective at keeping moisture in and irritants out.

All moisturizers should also be applied to your hands immediately after washing and gently blotting them dry. For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep moisturizer near every sink in your home and carry a small tube with you at all times, so that you can reapply it throughout the day.

Ointments

Ointments are usually the first choice for eczema treatment. They have the highest oil content of all the products (followed by creams and then lotions), so they don’t generally burn when they’re applied to sensitive skin and are very good at sealing in moisture. Some people prefer to use them at night, when they can better be absorbed into the skin.

Products high in oil content, such as petroleum jelly and mineral oil, are particularly good for treating eczema. But if you don’t like the way petroleum jelly or mineral oil feels on your skin, the next best alternatives are lubricants, hydrating gels and creams.

Creams

These are second to ointments in the amount of oil they contain and are also very good at sealing in moisture. Because they contain less oil, they are also less greasy to the touch. Be sure to read labels carefully — creams sometimes contain stabilizers or preservatives that can irritate your skin.

Lotions

These contain the least amount of oil. Because they are primarily made of water, lotions evaporate quickly and may contain preservatives that burn when applied to skin that’s scratched or broken.

If your skin stings or burns after you apply a moisturizer, switching to an ointment may help.

Tips on choosing a moisturizer

Finding a moisturizer that works can be a challenge. What works for one person may not work for another. As the condition of your skin changes so can the effectiveness of a product. A manufacturer may also change the formulation of a product from one year to the next.

Take the following steps when introducing a new product to your skin:

  1. If you know you are allergic to a particular ingredient, check a product’s label before you buy it.
  2. Review the list of moisturizers that have received the National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance™ to see if the product you are interested in is on it.
  3. The first time you use a new product apply a small amount (about the size of a pea) to the pulse of your wrist or the crook of your elbow. Do not wash the area for 24 to 48 hours and watch for any allergic reaction, such as redness, a rash, any form of breakouts on the skin, itchiness, pain, or flaking.

NEA’s Seal of Acceptance Product Directory will help you find eczema-specific moisturizers and commercial wet wraps that help with symptoms.