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Wet wrapping is a complementary treatment for moderate to severe skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema. The technique involves applying moisturizers or topical medications to affected areas of skin, then wrapping the skin in layers of wet and dry bandages. This helps to ease inflammation, itching, and irritation.

This article describes what wet wraps are, how they may help to alleviate psoriasis, and whether they are effective. We also provide tips on how to apply wet wraps at home.

A wet wrap, which can help treat conditions like eczema and psoriasis.Share on Pinterest
Janis Smits/Shutterstock

Wet wrapping is a technique that people may use to treat moderate to severe flare-ups of eczema or psoriasis.

Wraps are composed of layers of wet and dry bandages, cloth, or gauze that a person applies to affected areas of skin. A person can also use form-fitting pajamas for the wet wrap and looser pajamas for the dry wrap.

Wet wrapping involves three main steps:

  1. Applying moisturizer or corticosteroid cream to affected areas of skin.
  2. Wrapping the skin in a warm, damp layer of bandage or similar fabric.
  3. Wrapping a layer of dry bandage over the top of the damp bandage.

Each treatment should last at least 2–3 hours, and a course of treatment should last 3–5 days. Many people will apply wet wraps overnight.

Medical professionals may use wet wrapping in a hospital setting to help treat severe flare-ups of eczema or psoriasis.

Anyone considering trying the technique at home should seek advice from a doctor or other health professional. Applying wet wraps incorrectly, too frequently, or for too long can cause skin irritation or infections.

The goal of wet wrapping is to soothe, hydrate, and heal the skin.

Wet wraps prevent moisturizers and topical medications from evaporating from the skin or rubbing off onto clothing. This gives the active ingredients the best chance at penetrating the skin and helping to restore the skin barrier.

By creating a physical barrier over the skin, wet wraps also limit damage from rubbing and scratching. As such, they may be particularly effective in reducing skin irritation in young children and people prone to extreme scratching.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) endorses wet wraps as a treatment for eczema.

In a 2020 survey of 105 dermatologists and allergists, 90.4 % agreed that wet wraps increase the effect of topical steroid creams.

Scientific studies have also found evidence for the effectiveness of wet wraps for inflammatory skin conditions.

A 2018 study investigated the effectiveness of wet wrapping among seven participants with erythrodermic psoriasis, a rare and severe form of psoriasis. Participants received an hour-long wet wrap 2 to 4 times per day. Within 48-72 hours of treatment, all participants showed marked improvements in their psoriasis symptoms.

A separate, 2018 study investigated the effectiveness of wet wrapping among 12 participants with severe atopic dermatitis. Participants received an application of corticosteroid cream followed by a 2-hour-long wet wrap treatment twice daily for 7 days.

Following the treatment, participants’ skin looked healthier and itched less. Participants also reported improvements in their quality of life.

A person should talk to a doctor or dermatologist before applying wet wraps at home. A medical professional can demonstrate the technique and will be able to give tailored instructions.

According to the National Eczema Association (NEA), a person should ideally apply wet wraps after:

  • bathing
  • moisturizing
  • applying medication

Wet wraps are available to buy online. Alternatively, a person can use the following materials for both the wet and dry layers:

  • tubular bandages
  • gauze from a roll
  • a clean, 100 percent cotton sock with the toe end cut off
  • clean, white cotton clothing
  • cotton gloves to treat skin on the hands

The NEA recommends wearing pajamas over the top of dry bandages to help keep the bandages in place overnight.

Steps

A person should follow the steps below when applying wet wraps:

  • After bathing in warm (not hot) water, pat the skin dry with a towel.
  • Apply an emollient moisturizer to affected areas and allow it to soak in for 15 minutes.
  • Apply a thin layer of topical steroid cream or ointment.
  • Moisten the dressing in warm water and squeeze out any excess water.
  • Wrap the moist dressing around the affected area, so it is firm but not tight.
  • Wrap a dry dressing over the wet dressing.
  • Carefully put on clothing.
  • Leave the wrap in place for several hours or overnight, depending on the doctor’s recommendations.

As the moisture from the wet layer evaporates, it has a cooling effect on the skin. A warm room will help the moisture evaporate.

However, it is important that the wet layer does not dry out completely, as this could cause further skin irritation. If the wet layer starts to feel dry in some areas, a person can spray it with water from a spray bottle to help keep it moist.

Wet-wrap treatment should last a maximum of 5 days. As the inflammation reduces, a person can speak with their dermatologist about whether they can switch to treating their skin with emollient moisturizers only.

A person should only use a medication in a wet wrap that their doctor has prescribed.

Corticosteroid creams and ointments are available in different strengths, and these products can damage the skin. A person should never use a topical corticosteroid that a doctor has prescribed for someone else.

People should also avoid applying wet wraps to areas of skin that are weeping or infected.

Medical treatments for psoriasis fall into the following three categories:

  • Topical: This includes moisturizers, creams, and ointments that a person applies directly to the skin.
  • Systemic: Includes medications that work throughout the body, such as oral or injectable medications.
  • Phototherapeutic: Involves exposing the skin to ultraviolet (UV) light to reduce inflammation.

A person can use these treatments alone or in combination.

The treatments a person uses to control psoriasis flare-ups may differ from those they use to manage their psoriasis day-to-day.

A person who has mild to moderate psoriasis may be able to manage their condition at home without medications or by taking lifestyle steps in combination with medications. Some management tips include:

  • applying an unscented emollient cream to keep the skin moisturized
  • exposing the skin to sunlight without burning the skin
  • maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regimen
  • including fish oil or omega-3 fats in the diet
  • including kefir or other probiotics in the diet
  • including turmeric in the diet, which may help reduce inflammation

Wet wrapping is a technique that medical professionals use to help treat flare-ups of inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis. The treatment involves applying moisturizers or topical medications to the skin and wrapping layers of wet and dry bandages over the top.

Wet wrapping works by allowing moisturizers and medications to penetrate the skin and help restore the skin barrier.

Before trying wet wrapping at home, a person should seek advice from a doctor or dermatologist. A medical professional can demonstrate the technique and prescribe topical medications that will offer the greatest results.