Ointments are semi-solid greases that help to hydrate the skin by preventing water loss. Petroleum jelly has no additional ingredients, whereas other ointments contain a small proportion of water or other ingredients to make the ointment more spreadable. Ointments are very good at helping the skin retain moisture but they are often disliked because of their greasiness.
Creams are thick mixtures of greases in water or another liquid. They contain a lower proportion of grease than ointments, making them less greasy. A warning: creams often contain stabilizers and preservatives to prevent separation of their main ingredients, and these additives can cause skin irritation or even allergic reactions for some people.
Lotions are mixtures of oil and water, with water being the main ingredient. Most lotions do not function well as moisturizers for people with dry skin conditions because the water in the lotion evaporates quickly.
The importance of moisturizing cannot be over emphasized as a treatment for eczema and sensitive skin. Moisturizers maintain skin hydration and barrier function. Generic petroleum jelly and mineral oil (without additives) are two of the safest, most effective moisturizing products.
Apply moisturizer to your skin immediately after your bath or shower and throughout the day whenever your skin feels dry or itchy. Some people prefer to use creams and lotions during the day and ointments and creams at night. If you can’t find the product you want, ask a pharmacist to order it for you in the largest container available. Buying your moisturizers in large containers like one-pound jars may save you a great deal of money.
The NEA Seal of Acceptance™ Product Directory provides excellent suggestions for appropriate moisturizers for eczema.