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Eczema (young people)

Eczema treatments: leave-on emollients and wet wraps: overview

This section is about:
  • leave-on emollients – medical/prescription moisturisers (lotions, creams, gels or ointments)
  • cosmetic moisturisers (which tend to have fragrances and extra ingredients compared to plainer medical leave-on emollients)
  • wet wraps (when bandages are layered on top of leave-on emollients)
All the young people had tried some kind of prescribed emollient. They often used the word ‘creams’ to mean ‘leave-on emollients’, as do we in this section. Many had also tried shop-bought moisturisers. One of the first things Himesh understood about eczema when he was diagnosed at age 10/11 was that he would have to use “creams”. 

What are the different kinds and brands of leave-on emollients for eczema?

Doctors can prescribe many different brands and forms of emollients (ointments are thicker than gels, creams and lotions). Many of these can also be bought at pharmacies and sometimes supermarkets. There are also ‘cosmetic’/non-medical moisturisers – some people didn’t find these as good as prescribed emollients, but others preferred them. Most people had used both medical and cosmetic emollients. Cat tried lots of shop-bought moisturisers when her eczema returned after several years during university. She says she had to “admit defeat” when they didn’t work and went to see a GP for prescribed treatments. Aisha uses shop-bought moisturisers on most parts of her body now, whereas before she needed prescribed medical emollients.
 

Aadam finds Vaseline works well for his skin. Now that he can no longer get it on prescription, he and his parents look out for special offers in shops.

Aadam finds Vaseline works well for his skin. Now that he can no longer get it on prescription, he and his parents look out for special offers in shops.

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 1
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Recently Vaseline has been taken off prescription. I don’t know why. I am really annoyed about that. Because the last time I asked for Vaseline petroleum jelly, I was given some cheaper option which is not as good. It actually irritated my skin. So, I ended up having to buy the Vaseline products myself, of course. Although some, although like a bottle is pretty expensive I do tend to take quite some time to go through them. But then my dad keeps an eye out for the offers, like the other day, my dad was saying, well, they have got these bottles of Vaseline Intensive Care and they are doing them £2 each. So then he bought like four of them, which was like the last four there, knowing that I would I would go through them. They will probably last me about a good six months.
Some people had several moisturisers for different parts of the body. Himesh prefers thicker ointments for the eczema on his face than other parts of his body.
 

Anissa thinks it’s important to know that there is a wide range of emollients and that you can ask your GP for a different one.

Anissa thinks it’s important to know that there is a wide range of emollients and that you can ask your GP for a different one.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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I was stuck on Doublebase which is disgusting. It is, like. And it makes your skin feel greasy and I mean, like, sadly there is a thing about appearance in our culture. So when you have greasy skin because of your creams, you have that, well, people, and you smell like cream as well, never going to get over that [laughs]. But it makes it hard. So you just think that you have to put up with it, whichever moisturiser they give you, and then eventually I was like, “I really hate this cream. Can I have another?” And they went, “Yeah, of course.” It was like, “Oh, well you didn’t say that originally.” So like now I’ve got a nice moisturiser. But I mean all of these things could have been kind of sorted out if you had just, if they had just, you know, said, “Well, this kind of moisturiser does this, and it’s best used at this time, and everything like that.”
 

Alice’s GP recommended she try a shop-bought moisturiser when she was diagnosed with eczema at age 7.

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Alice’s GP recommended she try a shop-bought moisturiser when she was diagnosed with eczema at age 7.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 7
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Yeh and the doctors didn't really do very much about it. In fact I was thinking about this the other day, they’d never really given me anything for it. I remember being recommended this stuff from The Body Shop which was like this hemp cream and there was one that smelt kind of like that and there was another one which smelt like earth, it just smelt like soil that they gave me and I think that was the only thing they’d ever given me to deal with it.
Some people avoid certain emollients because of ingredients: Laura is allergic to lanolin and Molly’s skin flares-up with parabens. Many avoided strongly fragranced moisturisers. Other things are important for some young people in their decision-making too. When buying cosmetic moisturisers, Hazel looks for those which aren’t tested on animals (‘cruelty free’ products). Young people often said that they prefer using moisturisers and bathing products which were more ‘natural’, but that these are usually more expensive. Aman found it was less expensive to get his emollients on prescription than to buy similar items from the shops. 

People said it can be trial-and-error finding ‘creams’ that work for them. This can be expensive. Gary’s search has cost him a lot of money, as he has tried costly moisturisers as well as cheap ones. Some people felt their emollients became less effective over time. This means that they then looked for another to keep managing their eczema. For some, the wide range of creams available felt overwhelming but others felt they had only a limited choice.
 

Aman rotates using different emollients to keep them working well for his skin.

Aman rotates using different emollients to keep them working well for his skin.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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One of the things I’ve found throughout like kind of years of use is, moisturisers, if you if you switch to a new one, generally it’s quite effective for a number of months. And then that kind of tails off as either your body gets used to having that specific moisturiser and kind of taking it in too quickly and, and then, it ends up getting dry again. So, so switching around your moisturiser whether you use Diprobase or whether you use Aveeno or the whether you use a, so I’ve switched onto Cetraben, which is a, similar kind of moisturiser. But switching around, generally, does make a difference. And so, if you have a kind of rotation of moisturisers or, or treatments I get the feeling your body gets used to it. I don’t know what the medical explanations could be. So switching around kind of shakes things up a bit and, and generally improves things for quite a period of time. So, that’s just through my own experience. I don’t know how it would be with other people.
 

Ele has tried many different prescribed and shop-bought emollients for her eczema. She’s currently using one which she really likes, but worries it’ll stop being so effective.

Ele has tried many different prescribed and shop-bought emollients for her eczema. She’s currently using one which she really likes, but worries it’ll stop being so effective.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 2
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I used to use Aqueous BP for a while and then I read online that it does actually, it’s actually linked to making it worse in a lot of cases. Obviously E45 I used for a little while and then it went straight out of the window Bio-Oil I actually discovered in the first year of Uni and that worked pretty well but that involved having oily hands like greasy hands all the time. At the moment I went through a phase of just using Dove moisturiser just using Nivea but the thing is my skins sort of takes really, really well to something and then after a while it will just decide that it doesn’t like it anymore so yeh I've been through a lot of moisturisers just because my skin likes it, loves it, takes it all in and clears up and then suddenly one day I’ll put it on and it will start burning and which is so frustrating, but a lot of the stuff I’ve found is, is pretty good is aloe vera gel like just using aloe. And at the moment I’m using something called, am I allowed to use product names.

Yes.

I’m using something called Aveeno which I bought in Boots I went, I basically went in and my hand was sort of gnarled where it was so tight, my skin was so tight and flaky and I went into the pharmacist banged my hand on the counter and was just like “What can I do about this”? And she took me over to this Aveeno stuff and it’s quite pricey it’s sort of 13 quid for 500 millilitres I think it is but it’s got porridge in it, got natural oatmeal which, you know, I’ve been doing sort of putting natural yoghurt on my hand and putting it in cold porridge like making porridge baths for my hand. Because oatmeal apparently is so good for it but yeh that’s working really, really well at the moment so I’m just sort of enjoying that while it lasts. Been using that for about three weeks now and it’s a lot better than it was but it’s still not great but it’s better than it was.
Using leave-on emollients is a key part of managing eczema for the young people we talked to.

Wet wraps

Wet wraps are when layers of cream and bandages (including Tubigrips) are applied to body areas with eczema. Some people also used things like wearing cotton gloves at night or having a tight cotton t-shirt under work shirts to help emollients soak in. These can also help prevent damage done to the skin through scratching whilst asleep. Wet wraps had been used by a few people, often when they were little. Many remembered hating the feel and look of the wet-wraps back then. Georgia says she looks like a mummy when she uses wet-wraps. Vicky says she doesn’t mind doing them so much now she’s older.
 

Vicky was referred by her dermatologist to a paediatric dermatology specialist but she found it a bad experience with wet-wrapping.

Vicky was referred by her dermatologist to a paediatric dermatology specialist but she found it a bad experience with wet-wrapping.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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It was my dermatologist referral, he said cos where it was, my eczema was extreme. He said that we were sort of at a loss of what to do so he referred me to there to say, is there anything you can recommend and they, they agreed to see me. So I remember like my parents made a day out if it, we went up to [city of hospital] and that. And we got there and they literally looked at me and they spoke a little bit about that medication that was on trial that they’d only tried on boys my mum said no to that and then they said, “Well all we can do is wet wrap her then.” So they just wet wrapped me, literally from neck to ankle. And I was just crying and screaming cos where they’d put it all across my chest as well, so I felt like I couldn’t breath, I had panic attacks, it was horrible. I got on, got outside the hospital and ripped it all off and I remember thinking that ‘oh, that hospital is crap’.
 

Anissa remembers having wet-wraps with cool emollient when she was younger. She found they helped her eczema but drew attention at school.

Anissa remembers having wet-wraps with cool emollient when she was younger. She found they helped her eczema but drew attention at school.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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If my skin was bad, so it would be red and open sores and everything – my Mum would put my eczema cream in the fridge and then, so it was cold. So if it’s cold, it doesn’t burn so much and it really reduces the scratching, itchiness. And then she would coat my skin in it and then coat the bandage in it and she’d wrap it round everywhere that had got sore or that I could, and it was mainly to reduce like the pain of it but to stop me from scratching. So anywhere that it was present, the eczema or anywhere that it looked like it might go. So if I had eczema here [points to part of arm], I had a bandage from here to here [points to length of arm]. And I’d have to sleep in them and if it was bad, then I’d have to go to school in them. They’re, sadly the creams smell like, like cream. They don’t smell revolting or anything and you wouldn’t be like, [inhales deeply] “I smell cream”. But I mean like, it’s just, I think I smell it, and individuals smell it on themselves a lot more than what it actually is. 

But it’s always like that kind of like, “Hmm” and then when you’re notably wearing bandages I think that makes you feel a lot more noticeable. Like people mention like, “Oh, why are you wearing them?” And you’re like, “Well, my skin’s bad.” And then obviously little children are like, “Ergh, that’s disgusting. Look at your skin.” And then, but, like, it’s just they don’t really understand what it is, they feel like they can catch it or something like that, which is ridiculous. 
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