Choosing the best barrier cream depends on what its being used for. A moisture barrier cream is typically used to create a barrier, or waterproof covering, to protect skin from body fluids such as urine and feces. In addition, a barrier cream generally contains petrolatum and zinc oxide, which is the white ointment frequently used on noses as sunscreen. Most skin-protection creams are available over the counter, however, those containing high concentrations of active ingredients may require a prescription.
A barrier cream is frequently used to treat and prevent diaper rash, protect skin affected by rashes, and to prevent skin breakdown in those affected by urine and bowel incontinence. Urine and feces are especially irritating to tissues, and if persistent contact with skin occurs, decubitus ulcers can form. These are also known as bed sores and are categorized by various stages. A Stage I pressure ulcer is one classified by redness in the absence of broken skin, where a Stage IV decubitus ulcer involves severe destruction of the skin and underlying tissue.
Zinc oxide-based barrier creams should be applied to the affected area only after the area has been thoroughly cleaned with mild soap and water. Mild baby wipes can also be used to clean the area before applying the barrier cream, but all remnants of fecal matter and urine need to be wiped away. After the area has been dried, the barrier cream can be applied.
Although barrier creams are considered safe to use, allergic reactions can occur. These reactions may include redness, skin inflammation, itching, or irritation. In addition, rare, but serious allergic reactions can occur when using barrier creams.
Signs of serious allergic reactions include swelling of the throat, tongue, or mouth. Allergic reactions also can create hives, difficulty breathing, and chest pain. If these symptoms occur, emergency medical treatment should be sought.
If diaper rash or decubitus ulcers don't improve, or they worsen, the health care provider needs to be notified. He will need to evaluate the condition and recommended another treatment plan. If a skin infection occurs, despite treatment with the barrier cream, oral or topical antibiotics may be needed. The patient will need to take his entire course of prescribed antibiotics to make sure the infection clears.
Not only do barrier creams aid in the healing process, they also work to soothe irritated skin. In addition to using the barrier cream, an over-the-counter pain medication can be taken to help reduce discomfort and minimize inflammation. If pain becomes severe, or is accompanied by bleeding, pus formation, or thin red streaks that appear on the skin, the health care provider should be seen to rule out an infection.