Emollients and moisturisers for eczema

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Feb 6;2(2):CD012119. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD012119.pub2.


Background: Eczema is a chronic skin disease characterised by dry skin, intense itching, inflammatory skin lesions, and a considerable impact on quality of life. Moisturisation is an integral part of treatment, but it is unclear if moisturisers are effective.

Objectives: To assess the effects of moisturisers for eczema.

Search methods: We searched the following databases to December 2015: Cochrane Skin Specialised Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, LILACS, the GREAT database. We searched five trials registers and checked references of included and excluded studies for further relevant trials.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials in people with eczema.

Data collection and analysis: We used standard Cochrane methodological procedures.

Main results: We included 77 studies (6603 participants, mean age: 18.6 years, mean duration: 6.7 weeks). We assessed 36 studies as at a high risk of bias, 34 at unclear risk, and seven at low risk. Twenty-four studies assessed our primary outcome 'participant-assessed disease severity', 13 assessed 'satisfaction', and 41 assessed 'adverse events'. Secondary outcomes included investigator-assessed disease severity (addressed in 65 studies), skin barrier function (29), flare prevention (16), quality of life (10), and corticosteroid use (eight). Adverse events reporting was limited (smarting, stinging, pruritus, erythema, folliculitis).Six studies evaluated moisturiser versus no moisturiser. 'Participant-assessed disease severity' and 'satisfaction' were not assessed. Moisturiser use yielded lower SCORAD than no moisturiser (three studies, 276 participants, mean difference (MD) -2.42, 95% confidence interval (CI) -4.55 to -0.28), but the minimal important difference (MID) (8.7) was unmet. There were fewer flares with moisturisers (two studies, 87 participants, RR 0.40, 95% CI 0.23 to 0.70), time to flare was prolonged (median: 180 versus 30 days), and less topical corticosteroids were needed (two studies, 222 participants, MD -9.30 g, 95% CI -15.3 to -3.27). There was no statistically significant difference in adverse events (one study, 173 participants, risk ratio (RR) 15.34, 95% CI 0.90 to 261.64). Evidence for these outcomes was low quality.With Atopiclair (three studies), 174/232 participants experienced improvement in participant-assessed disease severity versus 27/158 allocated to vehicle (RR 4.51, 95% CI 2.19 to 9.29). Atopiclair decreased itching (four studies, 396 participants, MD -2.65, 95% CI -4.21 to -1.09) and achieved more frequent satisfaction (two studies, 248 participants, RR 2.14, 95% CI 1.58 to 2.89), fewer flares (three studies, 397 participants, RR 0.18, 95% CI 0.11 to 0.31), and lower EASI (four studies, 426 participants, MD -4.0, 95% CI -5.42 to -2.57), but MID (6.6) was unmet. The number of participants reporting adverse events was not statistically different (four studies, 430 participants, RR 1.03, 95% CI 0.79 to 1.33). Evidence for these outcomes was moderate quality.Participants reported skin improvement more frequently with urea-containing cream than placebo (one study, 129 participants, RR 1.28, 95% CI 1.06 to 1.53; low-quality evidence), with equal satisfaction between the two groups (one study, 38 participants, low-quality evidence). Urea-containing cream improved dryness (investigator-assessed) more frequently (one study, 128 participants, RR 1.40, 95% CI 1.14 to 1.71; moderate-quality evidence) with fewer flares (one study, 44 participants, RR 0.47, 95% CI 0.24 to 0.92; low-quality evidence), but more participants in this group reported adverse events (one study, 129 participants, RR 1.65, 95% CI 1.16 to 2.34; moderate-quality evidence).Three studies assessed glycerol-containing moisturiser versus vehicle or placebo. More participants in the glycerol group noticed skin improvement (one study, 134 participants, RR 1.22, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.48; moderate-quality evidence), and this group saw improved investigator-assessed SCORAD (one study, 249 participants, MD -2.20, 95% CI -3.44 to -0.96; high-quality evidence), but MID was unmet. Participant satisfaction was not addressed. The number of participants reporting adverse events was not statistically significant (two studies, 385 participants, RR 0.90, 95% CI 0.68 to 1.19; moderate-quality evidence).Four studies investigated oat-containing moisturisers versus no treatment or vehicle. No significant differences between groups were reported for participant-assessed disease severity (one study, 50 participants, RR 1.11, 95% CI 0.84 to 1.46; low-quality evidence), satisfaction (one study, 50 participants, RR 1.06, 95% CI 0.74 to 1.52; very low-quality evidence), and investigator-assessed disease severity (three studies, 272 participants, standardised mean difference (SMD) -0.23, 95% CI -0.66 to 0.21; low-quality evidence). In the oat group, there were fewer flares (one study, 43 participants, RR 0.31, 95% CI 0.12 to 0.7; low-quality evidence) and less topical corticosteroids needed (two studies, 222 participants, MD -9.30g, 95% CI 15.3 to -3.27; low-quality evidence), but more adverse events were reported (one study, 173 participants; Peto odds ratio (OR) 7.26, 95% CI 1.76 to 29.92; low-quality evidence).All moisturisers above were compared to placebo, vehicle, or no moisturiser. Participants considered moisturisers more effective in reducing eczema (five studies, 572 participants, RR 2.46, 95% CI 1.16 to 5.23; low-quality evidence) and itch (seven studies, 749 participants, SMD -1.10, 95% CI -1.83 to -0.38) than control. Participants in both treatment arms reported comparable satisfaction (three studies, 296 participants, RR 1.35, 95% CI 0.77 to 2.26; low-quality evidence). Moisturisers led to lower investigator-assessed disease severity (12 studies, 1281 participants, SMD -1.04, 95% CI -1.57 to -0.51; high-quality evidence) and fewer flares (six studies, 607 participants, RR 0.33, 95% CI 0.17 to 0.62; moderate-quality evidence), but there was no difference in adverse events (10 studies, 1275 participants, RR 1.03, 95% CI 0.82 to 1.30; moderate-quality evidence).Topical active treatment combined with moisturiser was more effective than active treatment alone in reducing investigator-assessed disease severity (three studies, 192 participants, SMD -0.87, 95% CI -1.17 to -0.57; moderate-quality evidence) and flares (one study, 105 participants, RR 0.43, 95% CI 0.20 to 0.93), and was preferred by participants (both low-quality evidence). There was no statistically significant difference in number of adverse events (one study, 125 participants, RR 0.39, 95% CI 0.13 to 1.19; very low-quality evidence). Participant-assessed disease severity was not addressed.

Authors' conclusions: Most moisturisers showed some beneficial effects, producing better results when used with active treatment, prolonging time to flare, and reducing the number of flares and amount of topical corticosteroids needed to achieve similar reductions in eczema severity. We did not find reliable evidence that one moisturiser is better than another.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Eczema / drug therapy*
  • Emollients / chemistry
  • Emollients / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Symptom Flare Up


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Emollients