Eczema is a common condition that causes dry, itchy, and painful skin. Wet wraps keep the skin moist and allow moisturizers and topical medications to work better.
Eczema is an inflammatory condition that can appear at any age. It affects 31 million Americans, creating patches of dry, scaly skin that can itch, blister, and become infected. There is no cure for eczema, but people can manage it with various therapies.
Treatments include moisturizers, antihistamines, topical steroid creams, corticosteroids, and biologic therapy — medication via injection.
For severe eczema flare-ups, a doctor might recommend wet wrap therapy, which keeps the skin moist and allows topical products to penetrate the skin.
This article explains the benefits of wet wraps and how to use them. It also answers some frequently asked questions about wet wrapping.
Wet wraps are clean cotton wrap dressings or gauze from a roll moistened with warm water. They work best when a person applies them after showering or bathing and applying moisturizer and topical medications.
A person wraps the moist dressing around the affected area and then covers it with a layer of dry cloth or night-time clothes. For feet or hands, people can use cotton socks or gloves as the wet wrap with vinyl gloves or plastic wrap for the dry layer.
For eczema on the face, specially trained healthcare professionals use gauze and surgical netting to dress the skin.
Wet wraps for eczema are an effective treatment for severe flare-ups that cause extreme itching. Adults and children can use wet wraps alongside other therapies.
Wet wrap therapy can hydrate the skin and relieve the irritating itch of eczema. It can also prevent scratching, which can damage fragile skin and lead to infection.
Covering the skin helps topical moisturizers and medications penetrate the skin and prevent them from evaporating.
The National Eczema Association (NEA) notes that wet wrapping reduces eczema symptoms in 70% of children who try them.
- atopic dermatitis
- contact dermatitis
- dyshidrotic eczema
- nummular eczema
- seborrheic dermatitis
- stasis dermatitis
Wet wrap therapy is a five-step process. After cleansing the affected area and applying moisturizer and steroid cream or ointment:
- Moisten the dressing for the wet wrap using warm water until it is slightly damp.
- Wrap the moist dressing around the affected area, being careful not to wrap it too tightly.
- Wrap a dry dressing around the wet dressing.
- Put on clothing carefully, so dressings do not dislodge.
- Leave the wet wrap in place for several hours or overnight.
Specially designed wet wraps are available online, but people can also use the following materials for the wet and dry layers:
- tubular bandages
- gauze from a roll
- clean, preferably white, cotton clothing
- clean, 100% cotton socks with the toe ends cut off
- cotton gloves
Pajamas or night clothes should cover the dry bandages to prevent slippage throughout the night.
The following section answers some common questions about wet wraps and eczema.
Can wet wrap therapy create other problems?
People should only use wet wrapping for a few days at a time, otherwise, the skin can break down. Wet wrap therapy can lead to systemic absorption of steroid medications and increase the risk of steroid side effects.
Adrenal suppression can occur with topical corticosteroids due to absorption through the skin. During this study, adrenal suppression was generally temporary, often resolving even with ongoing topical steroid use.
Is it OK if wet wraps dry out?
Wet wraps should be wet enough to stay moist or be remoistened with water if they dry out.
Should you wash eczema every day?
The NEA recommends taking at least one bath or shower every day. It also advocates the “soak and seal” method:
- Bathe in lukewarm water for 5–10 minutes using a gentle cleanser. Do not scrub affected skin.
- Pat skin dry with a towel and leave it slightly damp.
- Apply prescription topical medication to the affected skin.
- Within 3 minutes, apply moisturizer liberally all over the body.
- Wait a few minutes before getting dressed or applying wet wraps to allow the skin to absorb the moisturizer.
It is important to avoid soap and soap-based products as they can have a drying effect on the skin.
Can you over-moisturize eczema?
The issue with eczema may not be over-moisturizing but applying an unsuitable moisturizer. For example, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, moisturizer contains more oil than lotion. Using a high-oil content moisturizer seals in more hydration.
People should apply moisturizer 2–3 times daily and after every bath or shower.
People can use wet wraps for a few days during eczema flare-ups. If they experience the following adverse effects, they should contact a doctor:
There is no cure for eczema. However, people can use a variety of medications and home remedies to manage flare-ups.
Eczema often improves as children get older, but symptoms can persist into adulthood.
Wet wraps can reduce symptoms of eczema, such as dry, itchy skin. The procedure involves applying moisturizers or medications to affected skin before covering it with a layer of wet, then dry bandages.
Wet wraps allow medications to penetrate the affected skin while keeping the skin hydrated. They also prevent scratching.
Individuals should consult a doctor for advice on wet wrapping before trying it at home to determine the best topical medication to use.