What are emollients?

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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.

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Why are they important?

Emollients play a key role in the day-to-day treatment of dry or itchy skin, and are also effective in treating related conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

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.

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How emollients help your skin

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 and possibly itchy too.

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.


Janet's story

“I sit on the edge of my bed and just slap it on. You get into a routine of doing it every day.”

Janet was diagnosed with eczema recently, after noticing her skin was getting drier as she got older

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Types of emollients

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 and itchy 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 and itchy skin, it’s a good idea to wash with one of these

See our full E45 range of emollients and get help finding the right products for your skin.

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How to apply emollients

45 seconds on… how to apply emollients

45 seconds on… how to apply emollients

  1. Replace soaps, shower gels and bath oils with wash-off emollient products (e.g. soap substitutes)
  2. Apply your emollient 2–3 times a day*
  3. Smooth the cream on your skin gently in the direction of your hair growth
  4. Make sure you’re using enough emollient. For instance, adults with eczema conditions should use between 500g and 600g every week (about one handful every day), while children should use at least 250g a week (about half an adult handful every day)*
  5. For eczema and psoriasis, it's a good idea to apply emollient regularly all over the body, even when it feels like a flare up is improving

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.