Difference between a cream and an ointment for eczema?

  • by Petra Jelinkova

Finding a suitable eczema moisturiser, whether it be an ointment or cream, for our child’s eczema isn’t straight forward, especially when we have a range of options. It is important to understand what works best for our child’s skin and what minimises the severity of flare ups. Our eczema moisturiser is an ointment, which is more effective in hydrating and moisturising the skin than creams. As it contains little to no water it evaporates very slowly, holding in moisture for much longer than a cream.

Regular moisturising is the best way to keep our children’s skin hydrated and allow their skin’s natural barrier to stop hydration escaping and stop irritants getting into the skin. There are specific properties to look out for when choosing a suitable cream or ointment for your child’s eczema.

What is the difference between an ointment and a cream?

Creams are mixtures made up of half water and half oil. This means creams are not greasy to the touch, spread easily and wash off quickly with water. But this also means creams evaporate quickly from the surface of the skin drying the it out at the same time. Creams can also contain stabilisers, which are added to the formula to help the water mix in with the oil,  and can also use more than one type of preservative. These added ingredients can irritate your child’s skin, so it is important to read the label before purchasing the product.

An ointment is mainly made up of oils, there is a lot less, if any water in an ointment. Our eczema moisturiser, which is an ointment, does not contain any water. Ointments are thicker, stickier and greasier, because they contain a higher concentration of oil than in creams. This means ointments are more effective in hydrating and moisturising the skin than creams, because they very slowly evaporate from the skin’s surface, holding in moisture for a much longer time. This long lasting moisturising effect lessens the need to itch and keeps the skin soft and hydrated.

Tips for choosing a suitable moisturiser for eczema

  • Check to see if water is the main ingredient in your moisturiser. If it is, it may not be effective for eczema skin as it will evaporate quickly which means less time to lock in moisture and hydrate the skin.
  • Eczema isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ situation, because a moisturiser works on one person, it doesn’t mean it will work for every child, so we should keep an eye out for what our child responds to effectively. If you know your child is allergic to a particular ingredient, read the product’s label carefully before purchasing.
  • The first time you use a new moisturiser on your child, apply a small amount to the inside of their elbow. Do not wash the area for about 24 hours and watch out for any unusual allergic reaction such as increased redness, pain, rash or itchiness. If you don’t see any side effects, you may start using the moisturiser regularly on your little one but always keep an eye out for flare ups and stop using if it reacts badly to your child’s eczema.

When is the best time to moisturise eczema skin?

Moisturisers are most effective when applied on damp skin, within two minutes of taking your child out of the bath and gently patting them dry.  This is the best time for the skin to absorb and lock in moisture which of course helps in managing eczema. Moisturise your child’s skin at least twice more during the day.

This blog post was brought to you and your family with love from Julia and the itchy baby co. team x.

Disclaimer: Information provided is of a general nature only, and you should always consult your medical professional

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