Skin cleansing and emolliating for older people: A quasi-experimental pilot study

Int J Older People Nurs. 2017 Sep;12(3). doi: 10.1111/opn.12145. Epub 2017 Jan 12.


Aims: The aims of this study were to (i) assess the effect of low-cost hygiene and emollient regimens on the skin barrier function (SBF) of people aged >65 year with xerosis (dry skin) on their lower legs; (ii) to assess the utility of portable measures of skin barrier function in terms of stratum corneum hydration (SCH) and transepidermal water loss (TEWL) in community settings; and iii) to provide evidence for a randomised controlled trial on the treatment of adults in a resource-poor country with dry skin on their lower legs which causes and exacerbates the skin disease podoconiosis (non-filarial elephantiasis).

Background: Age increases the risk of impaired skin barrier function which can precipitate skin breakdown. Older skin is frequently characterised by troublesome xerosis and pruritus (itching). Hygiene and emollient practices are central to maintaining skin integrity but are currently under-researched.

Method: A quasi-experimental pilot study of five combinations of cleansing and emollient interventions was applied to the xerotic lower legs of ten participants with no skin disease for five consecutive days. Stratum corneum hydration and transepidermal water loss were measured at baseline and day six. Products were chosen because of effectiveness, low cost and availability in a poor-resource country.

Results: The greatest difference in transepidermal water loss pre-intervention-postintervention was indicated by the regimen of soapy water, 2% glycerine soak and Vaseline (mean 1.14, SD 1.27). This regimen also indicated the greatest difference in stratum corneum hydration (mean 7.92, SD 3.93). The improvement in stratum corneum hydration was significantly greater than for the control (p = .011), soap (p = .050) or water soak (p = .011).

Conclusion: A regimen of washing skin with soapy water, soaking in 2% glycerine for 30 min and applying Vaseline has a beneficial effect on the skin barrier function in older people. The study supports previous findings on the positive effects of glycerine on skin barrier function.

Implications for practice and research: Skin barrier function in older people can be improved using a regimen of washing, soaking in 2% glycerine and applying Vaseline .

Keywords: emollient; glycerine; hygiene; older people; skin barrier function; xerosis.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Emollients / administration & dosage*
  • Female
  • Glycerol / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Ichthyosis / prevention & control*
  • Leg*
  • Petrolatum / administration & dosage*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Pruritus / prevention & control*
  • Skin Care / nursing*
  • Soaps / chemistry*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Water Loss, Insensible / drug effects*


  • Emollients
  • Soaps
  • Petrolatum
  • Glycerol