A handout with GP had a list of what all those obscure-sounding ingredients in emollients are actually all about, which I thought might be useful:

Chlorhexidine: Reduces bacterial load (and bacteria can’t develop resistance to it.  Resistance is futile.  Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha).

Glycolic acid: Excellent keratolytic properties – decreases scale and hydrates the epidermis

Ceramide: Not that I’d ever heard of this one, but apparently it’s a type of lipid molecule that naturally occurs in the stratum corneum and is thought to aid water retention (eczematous skin has fewer of them) and can now be produced synthetically, so no doubt I’ll be hearing more of it in the future.  The reason it got mentioned on this flyer appears to be because the other side is advertising a cream containing it.

Lactic acid: Keratolytic and hygroscopic properties (whatever the hell hygroscopic means) and also stimulates ceramide production (so good job I just learned what ceramide is).

Sodium lauryl sulphate: Surfactant (what it actually does on the surface is not specified).  Can cause irritation.

Urea: Hydrates the epidermis (drawing water from both sides; the surface and the dermis), promotes keratolysis, and can reduce the irritation caused by sodium lauryl sulphate.

Glycerol: Hygroscopic properties (OK, I just looked it up, it means the ability to draw water molecules from the surrounding environment in a way that changes the substance).

Salicylic acid: Keratolytic.  Concentrated solutions can cause hyperpigmentation in darker skin types.

Lauromacrogols: Act like local anaesthetics and thus provide itch relief.


About Dr Sarah

I'm a GP with a husband and two young children.
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