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Bathing and Moisturizing for Atopic Dermatitis

Avoiding dry skin is an important part of treating atopic dermatitis. This is done through bathing and using moisturizers.

  • Bathing keeps you clean.
  • For the best effect, moisture should be sealed into your skin by applying a nonsensitizing, nonperfumed moisturizing cream or ointment (emollient) within 3 minutes of bathing.

Excessive bathing with soap or failure to use a moisturizer may leave the skin dry, making atopic dermatitis worse. Your doctor will suggest how often you should bathe based on your skin and the climate where you live.

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General bathing and moisturizing guidelines for people with atopic dermatitis are as follows:

  • Soak in clean, lukewarm water for 3 to 5 minutes. The skin will retain its natural oils. Losing the natural oils makes the skin drier. You may shower when atopic dermatitis is under control or when an outbreak is mild.
  • Avoid washing with soap during every bath. When soap is needed, use a gentle, nondrying product, such as Aveeno, Dove, Basis, or Neutrogena. Use soap regularly only on the underarms, groin, and feet, rinsing immediately afterwards. Don't let children who have atopic dermatitis sit in soapy water.
  • Avoid adding bath oils to the bath water.
  • Avoid using scrub brushes or washcloths.
  • Pat your skin dry after a bath or shower. While your skin is still moist or even wet, apply a moisturizer immediately—within 3 minutes of leaving the bath or shower. Waiting longer allows the skin to dry out. Moisturizers include Aquaphor, Eucerin, or Purpose. For severe dryness, try petroleum jelly, mineral oil, or an all-vegetable shortening such as Crisco. Also apply the moisturizer several times a day.
  • In warm, humid climates, greasy moisturizers may block sweat glands and make your skin uncomfortable. For greater comfort, use:
    • Oil-free moisturizers, such as Cetaphil.
    • Cream-based medicines and cream moisturizers.
  • Talk to your doctor about using a wet bandage over the affected area. It can help relieve symptoms, but it may not be a good idea if medicine is being used on the skin.

When an atopic dermatitis rash results in open, oozing, or crusted sores, clean the affected area. In this case, your doctor also may suggest:

  • Taking frequent sponge baths (4 to 6 times a day) or soaking in a bath of clean, lukewarm water for 10 to 30 minutes, 2 to 4 times a day. Adding colloidal oatmeal to the bath water [3 Tbsp (44 mL) per tub] can help relieve the itching. You can get colloidal oatmeal in the health and beauty section of a pharmacy.
  • Using a cloth dampened with a soothing medicine or water for rashes that cover small areas.
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Amy McMichael, MD - Dermatology
Last Revised April 17, 2012

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 17, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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