Emollients, Steroid Creams, Ointments: Eczema Treatments Explained

Donald Grant
Dr Donald GrantMB ChB DRCOG MRCGP Dip.orth.medGP & Clinical Advisor

Eczema is something that affects many of us at some point in our lives. The symptoms of eczema (or dermatitis as it is also known) are varied and can affect sufferers differently.

Red rashes, itchy and sore skin, or dry and cracked hands can all make living with dermatitis a misery.

Thankfully, there are treatments available. In fact, there are plenty of eczema treatments available from your local pharmacy — the problem is that there can sometimes be too much choice!

From emollient creams and ointments to steroid gels and mousses, it can be hard to choose the right eczema treatment for you. To help you better understand the various eczema treatments available to you, we’ll go through some of the most effective ways of treating eczema.

What is eczema?

Eczema is a skin disease that affects approximately 15 million people in the UK. It is the name for a group of skin ailments that give the sufferer patches of itchy and dry rashes. The exact causes of eczema aren’t fully known, and while eczema is not contagious, it is often passed down in families.

The most common form of eczema is atopic dermatitis, a type which is often found in babies under a year old. However, it can also be found in adults. Eczema is commonly displayed alongside other conditions such as asthma or hay fever.

The symptoms of dermatitis include:

  • Intense itching on the skin
  • Red, itchy rashes
  • Rashes may seep and crust over when scratched
  • Very dry skin may crack and bleed

Eczema can appear anywhere on the body, but it is most commonly found on the backs of the knees, the insides of the elbows, your face, hands, or neck.

How to treat eczema

There are a variety of eczema treatments available for sufferers to use. These include a range of creams, lotions, and ointments that can help relieve the symptoms of your dermatitis to make your day-to-day life easier.


Emollients are moisturisers that are used to keep the skin moist and hydrated. A vital part of treating dermatitis is keeping the skin soft and flexible. When eczema causes the skin to dry out, it becomes tight. As a result, it cracks and breaks easily, exacerbating the condition.

When applied up to four times daily, emollients help prevent the skin from drying out and cracking during eczema flare-ups.

These emollients come in a variety of creams, ointments, and lotions, which control dermatitis in different ways. Emollients also contain cleansing qualities, and as a result, can also be used as substitutes for body soap when washing. You can find emollient products that have been specially formulated for use in the bath or shower.


Emollients creams are often used on a day-to-day basis, as they are not as greasy as other dermatitis treatments. This lets them quickly absorb into the skin, soothing the symptoms of eczema and preventing further flare-ups.

Emollient creams contain preservatives which can irritate some eczema sufferers with prolonged use. For that reason, it’s always worth consulting with your GP or pharmacist before starting a new dermatitis treatment.

There are many different emollient creams that have been proven to be effective at treating the symptoms of eczema. Balneum is an emollient cream that moisturises the skin to help prevent dermatitis, as well as removing dead skin. Other emollient creams include Cetraben and Zerobase.

Balneum Plus works the same way as Balneum, but it also contains a local anaesthetic that helps relieve the itchiness associated with eczema.


Eczema sufferers can also use emollient ointments to help control their symptoms. Ointments are best for particularly thick, dry skin as it takes longer to absorb. This means they trap moisture into the skin. Ointments can also be very greasy, and as a consequence, it is often applied at night so it doesn’t pose an issue during everyday tasks.

Unlike creams, ointments do not contain preservatives, and so are less likely to irritate the skin further. However, they should not be used on eczema that is seeping as ointments will retain the leaking moisture.

A popular emollient ointment that can treat the symptoms of eczema is Diprobase. As well as being very effective for thick and scaly dermatitis, Diprobase ointment is also useful for treating inflamed rashes and cracked skin too, as long as it doesn’t weep.


Finally, emollient lotions can also be bought from your pharmacist. These are different from emollient creams and ointments because they contain less fat and more water. As a result, lotions are also less moisturising than other emollient products

However, emollient lotions are much thinner and easier to spread, making them good for hairy areas affected by eczema.

Emollient lotions are also available for bath or shower use as well. Dermol 200 is an emollient that can be used instead of your usual shower gel, and when used daily it can help fight irritation from eczema while keeping moisture locked into your skin.

Topical corticosteroids

Topical corticosteroids are a group of medicines that contain steroids. Steroids are anti-inflammatory medicines that reduce the painful itching and sore rashes commonly associated with dermatitis, psoriasis other skin conditions.

Like emollients, topical corticosteroids come in a variety of different types, such as creams, ointments, and lotions. They also come in four different strengths, ranging from mild to very strong. The weaker corticosteroids can be bought from your pharmacy, while stronger types can only be provided on prescription.

The strength of topical corticosteroid you use will ultimately depend on how severe your eczema is and where it appears. Weaker strengths tend to be used for mild cases of dermatitis or for sensitive areas of the body, such as the groin or face (read our guide on how to treat eczema on your face). Stronger types of corticosteroids are generally prescribed for eczema on the hands or feet, or in places of the body where the skin is particularly thick.

Topical corticosteroids should only be used in a short-term course of up to 10 days, as they can cause thinning of the skin over a prolonged period of time.

A weaker form of topical corticosteroid that is commonly used to treat cases of eczema is hydrocortisone. This is a steroid that is available either as a cream, ointment, or lotion, and it can be bought from your pharmacist without a prescription.

A moderate topical steroid is clobetasone. It is available as a generic and branded treatment (Eumovate) available in cream and ointment. Clobetasone can be used on the arms, legs, and torso to treat mild to moderate flare-ups of eczema and dermatitis.

A stronger preparation of corticosteroid is betamethasone, which can be found in Betnovate cream and ointment. It is best used for treating very severe cases of eczema, but it is only available on prescription. If you suffer from dermatitis or psoriasis on your scalp that is particularly bad, ask your doctor today about Betnovate scalp lotion. Both of these medications can help to treats outbreaks of dermatitis, psoriasis or eczema on the scalp, and effectively calm redness and irritation.

Stronger topical steroids containing betamethasone are also combined with antibiotics to treat infected skin conditions. Fucibet cream is a commonly prescribed treatment for infected eczema. Click through to find out more about Fucibet Cream uses or to read our customer reviews of Fucibet.

Click through to find out more about how to moisturise your scalp.

There are lots of treatments available to help take care of your eczema, and knowing what is out there can help you choose the product that’s right for you. Browse our great range of dermatitis treatments today to take the first step towards controlling your eczema!

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