Emollients are ingredients in skin creams, lotions, moisturizers or ointments that form a film on your skin. These ingredients can relieve dryness, itching and scaling. Emollients can help your skin feel more comfortable if you have eczema, psoriasis, dry or sensitive skin.
Emollients are ingredients in skin care products that soothe dryness or irritation. Emollients are also called barrier creams because they form a film on your skin’s outer layer. Healthcare providers often recommend emollients for skin conditions that cause scaling or dryness, such as eczema and psoriasis.
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Skin care creams, lotions and ointments that contain emollients can:
An emollient is an ingredient in moisturizer. The job of the emollient is to soften skin. Moisturizers contain other ingredients that help bring water into your skin.
There are two main types of emollients, and many moisturizing skin care products contain a combination of both:
Emollients can help relieve symptoms of skin conditions that cause dryness, cracking or scaling, including:
Emollients can also help with dry skin due to:
Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions if you use prescription creams or products with active ingredients, such as steroid creams. You may need to apply your prescription medications or active products before applying the emollient.
Emollients absorb better when skin is damp. To get the most out of your emollient:
Soaps and skin cleansers may contain ingredients that can aggravate eczema or dry skin. To combat this, wash your hands with an emollient after washing with soap:
This approach helps remove germs from the skin while minimizing the drying effects of soap. Whenever possible, wash your hands with fragrance-free, hypoallergenic soap and use hand sanitizers that contain moisturizers.
You can also use emollients throughout the day whenever your skin feels dry. Emollients without active ingredients are usually safe to use as needed. Check the product’s label to see if it contains active ingredients, such as hydrocortisone.
When trying new emollients, don’t use more than one new product at a time unless your healthcare provider recommends it. If you use multiple products and have a skin reaction, it’s harder to determine which product caused the issue.
Using emollients regularly may help you manage dry or itchy skin and can be a helpful addition to prescription skin creams. Emollients can make your skin feel more comfortable, relieving itching and pain from dryness or irritation. Daily use can help prevent skin cracks, helping you avoid infections.
Emollients are generally safe. But consider these risks before trying a new product:
Choose products that don’t contain common irritants or allergens, including:
To minimize these risks, ask your healthcare provider which products are right for your skin type.
Emollients are generally safe to use for the long-term. If you have a chronic skin condition that isn’t improving, talk to your healthcare provider about other treatment options.
Call your healthcare provider if you notice any of these changes to your skin:
If you have a skin condition or chronic health condition, see your healthcare provider regularly for checkups.
Seek emergency medical care if you develop a rash that’s:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Emollients are a helpful tool in your skin care routine if you have dry, irritated or itchy skin. Even if you use prescription skin creams, emollients can complement your treatment and make your skin look and feel better. Emollients can help heal dryness, irritation and scaling. With so many creams and ointments available for different skin types, most people can find one that fits their needs. If you have any skin conditions, ask your healthcare provider which products will work best for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/17/2022.
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