Wet wrapping is a technique that aims to stop moisture escaping from dry, eczematous skin, particularly overnight, and allow a faulty skin barrier to heal.
What does wet wrapping do for eczema?
- Soothes the itch
- Locks in moisture
- Protects skin from further damage
The itch-scratch cycle
The problem with eczema is that because the skin barrier function is more porous than usual, the skin loses moisture at a dramatic rate, which leads to dry, cracked skin, and in turn to further itching. This repeated cycle of dryness, damage and itchiness is known as the itch-scratch cycle.
→ Skin loses moisture
→ Skin becomes itchy
→ Itching damages the skin further
→ Skin loses more moisture
Unless the cycle is stopped, fragile skin cannot heal. Wet wraps act as an extra layer of skin for the hours that they’re used, providing the epidermis with the vital moisture needed to repair damaged skin, and reducing the itch by not allowing the air to get to the skin and cooling it down.
What are the benefits of wet wrapping?
According to dermatologists*, the benefits of wet wrapping include:
- Reduced itching and scratching
- Reduced redness and inflammation
- Skin rehydration
- Better skin healing process
- Reduced steroid usage once the condition is controlled
- Improved sleep
Sleep is so important to people with eczema, particularly itchy, distressed, restless little children and their sleepless parents! Even without the other benefits, wet wraps are a great way of providing a few hours of rest, allowing sufferers to recuperate.
How does it work?
Wet wrapping uses three steps to act as a kind of ‘super skin’ over eczema:
- A layer of emollient
- A layer of damp bandages or wraps
- A dry top layer
The wet cotton that is the bottom layer of the wraps also acts to keep hot, inflamed, itchy skin cool, taking the heat out of the itch. This can provide a respite from the distressing and uncomfortable symptoms of eczema.
The wrapping also means that any emollient used is ‘super-charged’; because it stays put under the wraps and the skin isn’t able to lose moisture, the effect of the emollient is more powerful than usual; it becomes deeply absorbed into the skin and provides a longer-lasting hydrating effect.
It’s usually advised that wet wraps are used over the course of several nights (up to a week), to allow skin time to heal.
See our step-by-step guide to wet wrapping here.
In this series of articles about wet wrapping, we’re focusing on using wet wraps with emollient creams, not with topical steroids. Always consult with a doctor or nurse if you’re using steroid creams as their potency may be increased when used under wet wraps and could damage the skin.*DermNetNZ