Emollients and Barrier Preparations

Preparations that moisturize and protect the skin against water and other irritants

Common drugs


  • Aqueous cream

  • Petroleum jelly

    Barrier preparations

  • Dimeticone

  • Zinc ointment

Emollients are commonly used to treat dry, scaly, or itchy skin that results from skin disorders such as eczema, contact dermatitis, seborrhoeic dermatitis, and psoriasis. Emollients increase the moisture content of the skin by forming an oily film that stops water from evaporating from the skin’s surface, thereby soothing and softening the skin. Emollient preparations are available over the counter in the form of creams, ointments, lotions, bath additives, and washes.

Barrier preparations often contain water-repellent substances and are used to protect the skin from water and irritants. They are useful for protecting the skin around pressure sores and leg ulcers. They can also be applied to the nappy area in babies to help to prevent nappy rash.

How are they used?

Emollients and barrier preparations are available without a prescription. They should be rubbed gently on to clean, dry skin. However, the effects of the preparations are short-lived, and they may need to be applied frequently, especially after washing. Emollient bath additives and washes are used in place of normal soap. Occasionally, ingredients that are commonly added to emollient preparations, such as lanolin, irritate the skin. If sensitivity occurs, you should discontinue using the product. In some cases, emollients may need to be used for an extended period of time, such as in the treatment of severe psoriasis.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

Back to top