If you or your child have ever been to a dermatologist’s office with a severe eczema flare-up, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of “wet wraps” before. If not, don’t worry — you’ve come to the right place!
During particularly intense eczema ﬂares with severe itch or pain, wet wrap therapy can work wonders to rehydrate and calm skin and help topical medications work better.
Wet wraps are dressings — often made from articles of clothing — that have been soaked in warm water with a dry layer applied on top. Face wraps are done by nurses trained in the procedure using gauze and surgical netting.
Wet wraps are a common skincare technique used in the pediatric eczema program at Denver-based National Jewish Health, a leading research and health care institution for treating atopic dermatitis in the U.S. The hospital uses a variety of inpatient and outpatient programs that teach how to identify triggers and manage symptoms of eczema.
According to Dr. Mark Boguniewicz, a pediatric allergist and immunologist at National Jewish Health, applying and maintaining wet wraps should be done with care and, when necessary, under the supervision of a medical professional skilled in wet wrap treatment.
“The wraps help keep skin moist and improve effectiveness of topical medicine. They also have a cooling, anti-itch effect. Rewet or take the wraps off when they start to dry out. This should be done under medical supervision for short periods of time and only [on] more severe eczema, and the patient should be observed for signs of skin infection,” Boguniewicz said.
Boguniewicz co-authored a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice July 2014 issue highlighting the profound effects of wet wrap therapy on children with severe eczema. The 72 children who took part in the inpatient study saw an average 71% reduction in symptoms and maintained healthy skin a month after returning home.
“We took a step-up, step-down sort of approach to managing their symptoms in this study,” said Boguniewicz. “We would apply the wet wraps to the affected areas two to three times a day, depending on the severity of the case, then we would taper the therapy down. Over roughly four days, we saw dramatic improvements.”
How to do wet wraps at home
Wet wraps can be done at home or when traveling, but only after consultation and approval from your health care provider.
“You first want to familiarize yourself with the concept and talk to a specialist about it [to] determine if this is the right approach for your child,” Boguniewicz cautioned. “Overuse can do more harm than good.”
Once you get the go-ahead from your doctor, you’ll want to start with clean, preferably white, cotton clothing or gauze from a roll for the wet layer, and pajamas or a sweat suit on top as a dry layer. If the eczema is on the feet and/or hands, you can use cotton gloves or socks for the wet layer with vinyl gloves or food-grade plastic wrap as the dry layer.
First, moisten the clothing or gauze in warm water until they are slightly damp. Next, wrap the moist dressing around the affected area. Then, gently wrap the dry layer over the wet one. Lastly, carefully put on nighttime clothing so as not to disturb the dressing. Leave wet wraps on for several hours or overnight, being sure not to let them dry out.
Do wet wraps work for treating the itch and pain associated with eczema? Yes! But you should always consult with a health care provider prior to starting wet wrap therapy.