Complementary Therapies
Applied to the Skin

For many patients, adding the following non-medicated therapies to a treatment plan helps relieve the itch and inflammation of eczema:

Cool Compress
What it is: A cool compress is a cloth dipped in cold water that is wrung out and applied directly to the skin that itches. When first placed on the skin, the itching or pain may become more intense; however, this soon subsides.

What it does: Helps relieve inflammation and itching. Cool compresses are often helpful for patients with:

  • Atopic dermatitis

  • Contact dermatitis

  • Dyshidrotic dermatitis

  • Neurodermatitis

How to use: Several factors, including the type of eczema and severity, affect when and how often a cool compress should be placed on the skin. If this is an appealing treatment option, speak with a dermatologist.

Emollients and Moisturizers
What it is / What it does: The word “emollient” means “to soften,” and emollients can leave skin feeling softer. The word “moisturizer” means “to add moisture.” In truth, a moisturizer cannot add moisture to the skin. A moisturizer traps moisture in the skin, which helps prevent water loss. Both emollients and moisturizers can decrease dryness and scaling, leaving the skin feeling more comfortable.

Most patients living with eczema, with the exception of seborrheic dermatitis, benefit from frequent use of these products. Research shows that regularly applying a moisturizer to skin affected by atopic dermatitis can:

  • Reduce dry skin.

  • Boost the skin’s protective abilities. Moisturizer forms a protective layer on the skin.

  • Increase the effectiveness of topical corticosteroids, and possibly reduce the need for long-term use.

  • Reduce skin irritation.

  • Improve the skin’s appearance.

How to use: Most moisturizers are applied directly to the skin; however, some are added to a bath. When applying a moisturizer to the skin, be sure to apply it immediately after bathing. When applied while the skin is still damp, the moisturizer can “lock in” the moisture from the bath or shower.

Moisturizers come in different forms. Ointments lock in moisture more effectively than other forms. Creams come in second and are used for dry skin or mild to moderate eczema. Lotions, which are primarily water, tend not to be as effective at locking in moisture. However, some newer lotions are excellent moisturizers. If you prefer to use a lotion, ask your dermatologist for a product recommendation.

Another reason to speak with a dermatologist before selecting a product is that many emollients and moisturizers contain added preservatives and fragrances that can irritate skin affected by eczema. Even products labeled “unscented” can irritate the skin because “unscented” means the fragrance is masked. It does not mean the product does not contain fragrance. When a product does not contain fragrance, it says “fragrance free.”

If the skin stings, burns, itches, or feels drier after applying an emollient or moisturizer, stop using it. These symptoms mean that the product is irritating the skin.

All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology

Researchers have found that using both a topical corticosteroid and a moisturizer decreases the signs and symptoms of atopic dermatitis better than use of a topical corticosteroid alone.

For more information, read Moisturizing and Cleansing Key to Treating Atopic Dermatitis.





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Page last updated 4/4/07

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