What are emollients?
Emollients are effective moisturisers that can help maintain your skin’s natural protective barrier and rehydrate your skin
How do emollients work?
Emollients are available in different forms like creams, ointments, lotions or gels that will have a different feel on your skin. Many contain lipids, like white soft paraffin, which are ingredients that work as occlusives, meaning they create a barrier to help prevent water from getting out of the skin. Some emollients also contain ingredients like urea that act as humectants, which are able to attract moisture to the skin and keep it there.
Why are they important?
Emollients play a key role in the day-to-day treatment of dry skin, and are also effective in treating related conditions like eczema.
You can apply your emollient regularly but it’s also important that you apply it in the right way. Many people find building emollients into their normal daily routine can help keep their skin healthy.
See the 'how to apply emollients' section below for the correct way to apply emollients.
If your skin is dry, its natural protective barrier is weakened. This allows moisture to get out and irritants to get in, making your skin dry.
Emollients help support your skin’s barrier. They can create a protective layer on top of your skin, to help prevent moisture getting out and attract moisture into the top layer of the skin and retain it to rehydrate your skin.
There are lots of types of emollients, and you may use different ones or a combination to respond to all your skin’s needs at different times. Here are some of the most common types:
- Leave-on emollients are an important part of a dry skincare routine. They’re classified according to how much oil they contain:
- Ointments are the greasiest. They’re often used for very dry skin and at night-time
- Creams contain a mixture of oil and water. They’re less greasy than ointments and can be easier to spread on the skin
- Lotions are the least oily and feel the lightest but they might need to be applied more often to keep the skin hydrated
- Wash-off emollients or soap substitutes: washing and bathing products can sometimes contain things like soap, colourings or fragrances which can irritate your skin and make it worse. Soap substitutes are unperfumed emollients which cleanse the skin effectively but do not lather like soap, therefore they can help prevent loss of moisture and drying of the skin. So if you have dry skin, it’s a good idea to wash with one of these
How to apply emollients
- Replace soaps, shower gels and bath oils with wash-off emollient products (e.g. soap substitutes).
- Apply your emollient following the directions on the pack.
- Smooth the cream on your skin gently in the direction of your hair growth.
- Make sure you’re using enough emollient. For instance, eczema sufferers should use 250-500g of emollient per week with at least 30 minutes between application. E45 Cream is to be applied to the affected area 2 or 3 times daily.*
If your symptoms don’t improve or get worse, talk to your healthcare professional. They’ll be able to offer you extra help and support to manage your skin.
*Application regime may vary depending on emollient. Always read the label.