Emulsifying ointment

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

What is emulsifying ointment?

Emulsifying ointment is a mixture of paraffin oils. It is used to moisturise very dry skin such as in eczema or dermatitis. It is greasy and sticky and leaves a thin layer of oil on the surface of the skin that stops water evaporating. This results in a soothing, softening and moisturising effect.

An emulsifying ointment can be used instead of soap or added to your bath. Emulsifying ointment must be rinsed off after use. Do NOT use it as a leave-on emollient or moisturiser.

Read more about emollients and moisturisers. 

How to use emulsifying ointment (instead of soap)

Emulsifying ointment is recommended as a soap substitute, instead of soap, because soaps (including shower gels and bubble baths) can dry out your skin. Carefully mix 3 to 4 large spoonfuls of emulsifying ointment with very hot water to achieve a creamy soap consistency. Once cool, this can be used in the shower or bath. You can prepare more if needed. The ointment label may also have preperation information.

Emulsifying ointment must be rinsed off

Emulsifying ointment contains the ingredient called sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS). 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 emulsifying ointment was used as a leave-on emollient but not when used as a wash product or soap substitute, that is rinsed off.

Emulsifying ointment must be rinsed off after use. Do NOT use it as a leave-on emollient or moisturiser.

Handy hints

  • Emulsifying ointment does not clog the bath or pipes.
  • When using emulsifying ointment in the bath or shower, the floor can become slippery so use a bath mat or shower mat to avoid accidents.
  • Emulsifying ointment, especially when used in large quantities over large areas, can catch fire when present on clothes because it contains paraffin oils. Keep away from open fires and flames, e.g. candles, and do not smoke when using emulsifying ointment.

Possible side effects

Like all medicines emulsifying ointment can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. Often side effects improve as your body gets used to the new medicine.

Side effects What should I do?
  • Signs of sensitivity or an allergic reaction to emulsifying ointment, such as red, itchy skin. This may be confused with a flare up of the eczema or dermatitis  
  • Tell your doctor  

Learn more

Emollients and moisturisers Dermnet NZ
Emollients for eczema Patient Info, UK
Emollient and barrier preparations NZ Formulary

References

  1. Childhood eczema: improving adherence to treatment basics BPAC, 2016
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 08 Jan 2019