It’s long been said that the key to managing eczema is to moisturise, moisturise, moisturise. And yes, it's true: what your poor, dry, thirsty skin really needs to stay healthy is moisture!
So you go to the doctors and they prescribe you some big tubs of emollient, bumper sizes so you can use lots of it, and nothing fancy so you’re not reacting to the perfumes and colours high street moisturisers are full of.
You dutifully slather on the (more often than not pretty unpleasant in texture and smell) creams, but even after a week there’s little improvement.
What might be going on? Here are 6 things to consider about your prescribed emollients.
1. You’re not using enough
People often under-apply emollient or think that it should be rationed in some way. It doesn’t! Pile it on whenever you feel you need it, not just once or twice a day, and especially straight (we’re talking within 3 mins here) after bathing.
ACTION: Apply your emollient every few hours for at least 4 weeks, even when the flare has gone.
2. You’re reacting to something in the emollient
It’s possible to be sensitive to the preservatives, emulsifiers or odour-masking additives in a paraffin-based cream, or to the paraffin itself, even if the ingredients are generally tolerated in the wider population.
ACTION: Check ingredients lists and try out different emollients to find one that your skin loves. Everyone is different, and as a patient you’re allowed to request the emollient that best suits your own unique skin, so be firm if need be!
3. Your emollient is not letting your skin breathe
This can happen when you use a paraffin-based occlusive emollient that is excellent at locking useful moisture IN but really bad at letting unhelpful moisture OUT! Skin needs to breathe; otherwise it can get overheated, susceptible to infection and further inflamed.
ACTION: Try a beeswax-based ointment instead; beeswax is semi-occlusive and will allow an exchange of moisture while still protecting from dehydration.
4. Your skin has an infection
People prone to eczema are also prone to infections, as their skin barrier is faulty, allowing microbes - whether fungal or bacterial - through the skin.
ACTION: Check with your GP if you’re worried about infection: they’re not to be messed with! Use antimicrobials, natural or pharmaceutical, to curb infection: antiseptics, tea tree, bleach baths, antibiotics if the infection is serious.
And try swapping to an emollient with natural antimicrobials in it - like Skin Salvation!
5. Your skin needs feeding!
Paraffin-based emollients do a good job at locking moisture in, protecting broken or damaged skin, and softening rough, dry skin… but maybe your skin needs more!
ACTION: Feed your skin with the nutrients it needs to regenerate and repair itself by applying emollients that are rich in EFAs, vitamins, antioxidants etc. An daily application of an ointment like Skin Salvation is like a vitamin supplement on your skin.
6. You need to take a more holistic approach to your eczema
Emollients will help soothe symptoms, but they won’t get to the root of the problem. For that you need to look at what is triggering your skin to flare up and change that, so that you’re not continually reacting to your everyday life.
ACTION: Check out our blogs about other things that you can change that might be affecting your skin: diet, environment, gut health, mental health, detergents, pets, pollen, stress, bathing, clothes, soap, even water etc. can all affect flare-ups.
More tips and information about managing your eczema here.
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.