Aqueous cream

Easy-to-read medicine information about aqueous cream – what is it, and how to use it safely.

On this page, you can find the following information:

What is aqueous cream?

Aqueous cream is a non-greasy emollient or moisturiser, used to relieve dry skin conditions such as eczema.  It is made from a mixture of emulsifying ointment and water (also called oil in water emulsion). When used as a soap substitute or wash product, it works by providing a layer of oil on the surface of the skin, which traps water beneath it and prevents water evaporating from the skin surface. In this way, it helps to retain moisture on the skin and reduce dryness. Read more about emollients and moisturisers. 

Two types of aqueous cream

Not all brands of aqueous cream have the same formulation. There are now 2 types of aqueous cream – one that contains the ingredient called sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and the SLS-free formulation. 

SLS irritates the skin when it is left on for a long time. This can cause skin reactions, such as burning, stinging, itching and redness. These reactions were noticed when aqueous cream was used as a leave-on emollient but not when used as a wash product or soap substitute, that is rinsed off.

Aqueous cream that contains SLS must be rinsed off after use. Do NOT use it as a leave-on emollient or moisturiserSLS-free aqueous cream can be used both as a leave-on emollient and a soap substitute.

Always check with your doctor or pharmacist which type of aqueous cream you have and ask for advice on how to use it. The following is a guide.  

How to use aqueous cream (instead of soap)

Aqueous cream is recommended as a soap substitute, to be used instead of soap. Soaps (including shower gels and bubble baths) can irritate and dry out the skin. This can make eczema worse. Although aqueous cream does not lather or foam like regular soap, it cleanses the skin well. It can be used before or during bathing, showering or washing.

  • If your aqueous cream contains sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), it must be washed off, and not left on the skin for prolonged periods.
  • If your aqueous cream does not contain SLS, it does not need to be washed off and can be left on the skin.

Be careful: when using aqueous cream in the bath or shower, the floor can become slippery so use a bath mat or shower mat to avoid accidents. If you are using it on a baby, take extra care so they don’t slip while bathing.

What are the side effects of aqueous cream?

Side effects with aqueous cream are rare. Some people can get signs of sensitivity or an allergic reaction such as red, itchy skin. This may be confused with a flare-up of eczema or dermatitis. If you get these symptoms, tell your doctor or pharmacist. 

Learn more

Emollients and moisturisers Dermnet NZ
Emollients for eczema Patient Info, UK
Emollient and barrier preparations NZ Formulary
Aqueous cream – moisturiser or irritant? Medsafe, NZ, March 2012  


  1. Childhood eczema: improving adherence to treatment basics BPAC, NZ, 2016
  2. Danby SG, Al-Enezi T, Sultan A, et al. The effect of aqueous cream BP on the skin barrier in volunteers with a previous history of atopic dermatitis. British Journal of Dermatology 2011;165:329–34

Additional resources for healthcare professionals

Emollient and barrier preparations NZ Formulary
Aqueous Cream - Moisturiser or Irritant? Medsafe, NZ, 2012
Treating childhood eczema - a topical solution for a topical problem BPAC, NZ, 2015
“Seventh age itch” – Preventing and managing dry skin in older people BPAC, NZ, 2014

Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 21 Dec 2018