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Rady Children's Specialists



Moisturizers, available in ointments, creams, lotions and oils, should be used liberally and applied frequently. As they can dilute topical medications when applied directly over them, you should make sure to apply moisturizers at least 20 minutes after applying topical preparations. Rarely, contact dermatitis can develop; as an example, some patients may become sensitized to lanolin and may develop contact allergy when moisturizers containing this ingredient are used.

For an inexpensive moisturizer, you can use petrolatum or vegetable shortening. And some moisturizers are available in one-pound jars.


In general, ointments have the fewest additives and are generally well tolerated. In a hot, humid environment, however, they can trap perspiration, resulting in increased itching (pruritus) or sterile folliculitis (inflammation of hair follicles).

Creams and lotions

Creams and lotions have a higher percentage of water than ointments, making them easier to rub on than ointments.  However, lotions and creams can be irritating due to added preservatives or fragrances. In addition, the higher water content of lotions can have a drying effect on the skin due to evaporation.


While oils are easy to apply, they are often less effective than ointments or creams.

Alpha-hydroxy acids

Alpha-hydroxy acids such as 12 percent ammonium lactate have been shown to have beneficial effects on the skin, including improvement of the skin barrier function. Of potential importance, it has been shown to mitigate atrophic changes associated with use of topical corticosteroids. Ammonium lactate should not be applied to open lesions, as this may cause significant burning and stinging.