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Treating itchy skin conditions: know your emollients

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Itchy skin can be irritating and distressing Itchy skin can be irritating and distressing for patients

The skin is not only the largest organ of the body, it also forms a living biological barrier and is the aspect of ourselves we present to the world. It is therefore not surprising there is great ‘interest’ in skin care. An impairment of normal functions of the skin can lead to acute and chronic illness with considerable disability and the need for topical treatments. Emollients are the mainstay for eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions.1

The skin is a complex organ with many functions, such as providing a protective barrier against bacteria and other harmful organisms. However, when the skin loses its integrity ‘invasion’ from the outside is inevitable. Therefore, providing supple skin that is protective is crucial, especially with skin that may be compromised by disease.2

Knowing how the skin produces its own moisturising factors (NMFs) is crucial to then being able to assess types of emollients that will suit each individual patient. Consider the skin as a brick wall, the cells being bricks and the NMF is the mortar. In healthy skin the NMFs help the cells to swell, and fats and oils fill the spaces between this, forming a natural skin barrier, keeping moisture in and irritants and infections out (Figure 1).

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