The regular use of a moisture barrier cream can help you avoid dry and cracked skin, often the result from both repeated cleansing and repeated exposure to irritants. If you’re bedridden or must sit for long periods of time, your skin will also need extra attention to guard against pressure sores. Pressure sores, or bedsores, are especially problematic—they can start as a simple, red-skinned irritation, but if unchecked can develop into life-threatening wounds.
People with diabetes need to take extra care to baby their skin, especially the skin of the feet, to prevent any kind of abrasion or injury.
Exposed skin, like the skin of your hands, is always vulnerable, but so is the genital area if incontinence is a problem—using skin care products that minimize chaffing and keep skin intact and feeling clean are as important as any other incontinence items.
Barrier Cream Ingredients
The protective ingredients in barrier skin creams are designed to lock in moisture and block transepidermal water loss as well as provide a protective film that acts as a barrier against irritants. Some ingredients will relieve itching as they soothe; others might encourage dead skin cells to flake off, giving skin a fresher look and texture. Note that barrier creams are not advised for skin with open sores—such sores need to be examined by your doctor and be treated with specialized wound-healing care.
Ingredients to look for include:
- amino acids
- vitamins A, D and E
- dimethicone, a silicone-based skin protectant that moisturizes the skin
- natural emollients such as sunflower seed and olive oils
- aloe vera to soothe
- white petrolatum barrier base
- zinc oxide to protect against moisture loss
- urea to increase the water binding capacity of surface skin and attract water to dry skin cells
- AHAs, or alpha hydroxy acids, to exfoliate or facilitate the sloughing of dry skin cells and increase the skin’s elasticity and resistance to cracking
Other Considerations When Choosing A Moisture Barrier Cream
Consistency is also a factor to consider. Lotions provide only light protection—in fact the thinner the product, the more water it contains and the less it will nourish and protect. A barrier skin cream with a petrolatum base (think of Vaseline) provides thick coverage; some formulas may feel greasy, but this ingredient really creates an ideal moisture barrier cream.
Often good skin care lines will include a range of products with key ingredients but in different strengths to meet different needs. For instance, products from Atrac-Tain feature urea and AHAs in their formulas, but Atrac-Tain Moisturizing Cream For Dry Cracked Skin has 10 percent urea and 4 percent AHA to soften and soothes skin by slowing the evaporation of moisture while Atrac-Tain® Lotion has 5 percent urea and 2.5 percent AHAs and is better suited to skin that’s just moderately dry.
Paste formulas often offer the maximum protection with a consistency that helps the product stay put and a higher viscosity (or thickness) than other barrier creams–you may be able to get maximum barrier coverage with less product. Remedy Calazime Protectant Paste puts down a zinc oxide-based barrier that protects against moisture loss and minor irritation. Its rich emollients include cold-pressed sunflower seed oil and organic olive oil along with white petrolatum, which all make it easier to spread the product over your skin.
Look for barrier skin creams that say they allow the skin to breathe—they aren’t "occlusive," meaning they won’t block pores. You also want a product that is pH balanced and made without dyes or perfumes that can irritate.
And if you have very sensitive skin, a preservative-free formulation may be safer to use on your skin—typically water-based products, like lotions, must have preservatives to inhibit the formation of bacteria; the heavier, oil-based product are less likely to need them.
When using a barrier cream in conjunction with incontinence products, keep in mind that some, like Soothe & Cool INZO Invisible Zinc Oxide Barrier Cream, can be used under tape while others may interfere with the adhesive and prevent it from sticking.