BOSTON (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Moisturizers are “a cornerstone” of therapy for children with atopic dermatitis, according to Julie V. Schaffer, MD.

Moisturizers improve skin hydration, increase the time between flares, and reduce xerosis and pruritus, Dr. Schaffer of Hackensack (N.J.) University Medical Group said at the American Academy of Dermatology summer meeting.

In 2014, the AAD released guidelines that “very strongly” recommended moisturizers as an important nonpharmacologic intervention for patients with AD, stating that moisturizer use decreases disease severity and can reduce the need for pharmacologic intervention, she said.

In fact, the recommendation for moisturizer was based on “strength A, level 1 evidence,” she noted.

The role of bathing is a bit less clear; bathing is suggested as part of treatment and maintenance, but no standard exists with respect to frequency or duration for those with AD (evidence level: III, strength of recommendation: C). In general, the AAD recommends daily or less frequent bathing in warm water for 5-10 minutes, but surveys suggest that bathing recommendations vary widely among specialists and primary care providers, Dr. Schaffer said.

She noted that she sometimes sees children who have been told to bathe only once a week.

“They will come in just covered with disgusting gunk and it can’t be good for them,” she said. Bathing, especially if they have crusting and scaling, removes irritants and potential allergens, and provides hydration. It can also improve penetration of topical medications, as well as tolerance of those medications so that they burn less.

“So I give a thumbs up to daily bathing,” she said.

It is generally agreed that moisturizers should be applied soon after bathing (after applying medication) to improve skin hydration in patients with AD, Dr. Schaffer said.

The AAD says that moisturizers should be applied liberally and frequently, but the ideal frequency and type of moisturizer remains “a bit of an art form rather than a precise science,” she added.

The ideal moisturizer is one that is safe, effective, and free of fragrance, irritants, and potential sensitizers, she said, noting that “an individualized approach to moisturizer and vehicle selection can be very helpful.”

For young children, it is important that the product doesn’t sting; an ointment may be preferable in this population. Preteens and teenagers may dislike greasiness, so that is an important consideration, she said.

Dr. Schaffer pointed out that lotion formulations typically have water content that is too high to be helpful for patients with substantial xerosis. Creams or ointments may be a better bet, but take care to avoid contamination in large jars of such products, she advised.

“I’ve had a couple times when patients were getting recurrent infections, and we traced it down to a nasty jar that had a little too much bacteria in it,” she said, noting that using a clean scoop or pump can help prevent contamination.

As for cleansers, the “pretty clear winner” is a nonsoap cleanser, Dr. Schaffer said.

The AAD recommends limited use of hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, nonsoap cleansers with neutral to low pH, but the evidence is insufficient for recommending the addition of bath oils, emollients, oatmeal, and most other additives to bath water, as well as for the use of acidic spring water, she said (evidence level: III, strength of recommendation: C). An exception is bleach baths, as adding a small amount of bleach to bath water has been shown to improve symptoms, but the other products have not been shown to be beneficial.

The AAD notes that wet wrap therapy, either with or without a topical corticosteroid, can be recommended for patients with moderate to severe AD, as this can decrease disease severity and water loss during flares (evidence level: II, strength of recommendation: B).

Use moisturizer in newborns at risk for AD

Moisturizers don’t just help improve atopic dermatitis in children, they may also prevent the condition in at risk newborns.

Parents of a child with eczema who are concerned about the condition developing in their next child may find hope in the findings from two studies published in 2014, Dr. Schaffer said.

In a study of 124 newborns at high risk for AD who were randomized to daily emollient therapy or usual infant skin care started by age 3 weeks, the incidence of AD over 6 months was 43% in the control group, vs. 22% in the emollient group, a relative risk reduction of 50% (J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2014 Oct;134[4]:818-23). Parents in the emollient therapy group were allowed to choose between sunflower oil, Cetaphil cream, or Aquaphor Healing Ointment.

In a similar Japanese study of 118 high risk infants who were randomized to daily treatment with an emulsion-type emollient or usual skin care starting the first week of life, the AD/eczema rates at 32 weeks were 47% and 32% in the control and emollient groups, respectively (J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2014 Oct;134[4], 824-30). Both groups were allowed to use petroleum jelly.

“So that is something you can potentially make a recommendation for,” she said.

Dr. Schaffer reported having no conflicts of interest.


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