Eczema treatments: leave-on emollients and wet wraps: overview

This section is about:
  • leave-on emollients – medical/prescription moisturisers (lotions, creams, gels or ointments)
  • cosmetic moisturisers (which tend to have fragrances and extra ingredients compared to plainer medical leave-on emollients)
  • wet wraps (when bandages are layered on top of leave-on emollients)
All the young people had tried some kind of prescribed emollient. They often used the word ‘creams’ to mean ‘leave-on emollients’, as do we in this section. Many had also tried shop-bought moisturisers. One of the first things Himesh understood about eczema when he was diagnosed at age 10/11 was that he would have to use “creams”. 

What are the different kinds and brands of leave-on emollients for eczema?

Doctors can prescribe many different brands and forms of emollients (ointments are thicker than gels, creams and lotions). Many of these can also be bought at pharmacies and sometimes supermarkets. There are also ‘cosmetic’/non-medical moisturisers – some people didn’t find these as good as prescribed emollients, but others preferred them. Most people had used both medical and cosmetic emollients. Cat tried lots of shop-bought moisturisers when her eczema returned after several years during university. She says she had to “admit defeat” when they didn’t work and went to see a GP for prescribed treatments. Aisha uses shop-bought moisturisers on most parts of her body now, whereas before she needed prescribed medical emollients.
Some people had several moisturisers for different parts of the body. Himesh prefers thicker ointments for the eczema on his face than other parts of his body.
Some people avoid certain emollients because of ingredients: Laura is allergic to lanolin and Molly’s skin flares-up with parabens. Many avoided strongly fragranced moisturisers. Other things are important for some young people in their decision-making too. When buying cosmetic moisturisers, Hazel looks for those which aren’t tested on animals (‘cruelty free’ products). Young people often said that they prefer using moisturisers and bathing products which were more ‘natural’, but that these are usually more expensive. Aman found it was less expensive to get his emollients on prescription than to buy similar items from the shops. 

People said it can be trial-and-error finding ‘creams’ that work for them. This can be expensive. Gary’s search has cost him a lot of money, as he has tried costly moisturisers as well as cheap ones. Some people felt their emollients became less effective over time. This means that they then looked for another to keep managing their eczema. For some, the wide range of creams available felt overwhelming but others felt they had only a limited choice.
Using leave-on emollients is a key part of managing eczema for the young people we talked to.

Wet wraps

Wet wraps are when layers of cream and bandages (including Tubigrips) are applied to body areas with eczema. Some people also used things like wearing cotton gloves at night or having a tight cotton t-shirt under work shirts to help emollients soak in. These can also help prevent damage done to the skin through scratching whilst asleep. Wet wraps had been used by a few people, often when they were little. Many remembered hating the feel and look of the wet-wraps back then. Georgia says she looks like a mummy when she uses wet-wraps. Vicky says she doesn’t mind doing them so much now she’s older.


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