What are emollients?

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How do emollients work?

When applied to the skin, emollients help improve skin hydration and skin barrier function.

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Why are they important?

The skin is the first barrier protecting our underlying tissues from the external environment. Emollients can help maintain this protective barrier, as well as helping skin retain moisture, look smooth and feel soft.

See the 'how to apply emollients' section below for the correct way to apply emollients.

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How emollients help your skin

When your skin's protective barrier is weakened, less moisture is retained and more irritants can get in, causing further damage to the skin's protective barrier.

Emollients help support your skin’s barrier by improving the function of the barrier, softening and smoothing the skin and helping the skin retain moisture.

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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 skincare routine. They’re classified according to their ratio of oil to water:
    • 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 as soap substitutes: washing and bathing products can sometimes contain soaps, colourings or fragrances which can irritate your skin. There are a number of emollients which can act as soap substitutes. Using emollients as soap substitutes means they can cleanse the skin, and also help prevent loss of moisture. So if you have dry skin, you can 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 following the directions on the pack.
  3. Smooth the cream on your skin gently in the direction of your hair growth.

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.