How do emollients actually work? What’s going on beneath the surface?
Emollients work by moisturising and restoring the natural barrier function of the skin in two ways:
Firstly, emollients replace lost water (i.e they rehydrate the skin). Emollients often also contain natural moisturisers such as glycerin
This helps increasing the water-binding capacity of the outer skin layers by attracting and retaining water from deeper skin layers. You might have heard the term ‘humectant’ applied to emollients - this refers to this exact process of rehydrating and moisturising the skin.
Secondly, emollients help to create a protective film of oil (also known as lipids) over the skin surface.
In this way, emollients help to prevent further water loss. This is a part of moisturising the skin leading to less scales and softer plaques.
In psoriasis, the skin barrier function is decreased, which makes it more susceptible to irritants such as dirt and bacteria. This can lead to further symptoms such as itching. By reforming the skin barrier, you protect the skin from unwanted bacteria and irritants. You might read on some emollients that they have ‘occlusive’ properties - this refers to the barrier forming function that lipids have on the skin.
So, rest assured that under the surface your skin is going through a number of really important and beneficial changes that will help you to stay symptom and flare - up free for longer.