Using Wet Dressings for Kid's Eczema Flares

Baby's mother looking at the back of its head

Eczema is a skin condition in which children get an itchy red rash on their arms and legs and sometimes all over their bodies.

For most kids with eczema, their rash clears up with treatment and then gets worse or flares up from time to time. Unfortunately, some kids have more hard to control eczema and they rarely have clear skin.

In addition to avoiding triggers, regularly using moisturizers and a topical steroid cream or ointment, wet dressings are a treatment for eczema flares that is underused and often misunderstood. Wet dressings are also known as wet wraps or wet compresses.

How to Apply Wet Dressings

Although often used for other itchy rashes, such as poison ivy and insect bites, wet dressings can also be helpful to get eczema flares under control. In addition to cooling the skin, they can help decrease itching and burning and can especially help skin that has become moist or oozing.

  1. Wet the cloth with cool water.
  2. Wring out the cloth so that it is not dripping wet.
  3. Cover the affected skin area with a moisturizer and place the wet dressing over it.
  4. Keep the dressing on for about 30 to 60 minutes, reapplying it another two or three times throughout the day—but not too often, since that could dry out your child's skin.
  5. Only use wet dressings for three or four days, until the worst of the eczema flare is under control.

Using moisturizer under the wet dressing is a specific treatment for eczema, and you wouldn't necessarily do that for other skin conditions. For many skin rashes, like poison ivy, sunburn, or insect bites, you would likely just place the wet dressing on the rash.

Additional Tips

Although wet dressings can be an effective treatment for eczema flares, they are not for everyone. Use them only on a doctor's recommendation.

For one thing, kids don't always like them. Although it can control itching, having a cool dressing on the skin may be uncomfortable for some children. Also, overuse of wet dressings (especially if you first don't put a moisturizer or steroid cream on your child's skin) can be drying, which is the last thing you want to do when a child has eczema.

So wet dressings typically are the last resort. Since they are effective, ask your pediatrician about them if your child has hard-to-control eczema.

Some other ways to try wet dressings include:

  • Applying a moisturizer to your child's skin after removing the wet dressing.
  • Applying a low- or medium-dose steroid to the child's skin under the wet dressing instead of a moisturizer. Because this may increase the absorption of steroids through your child's skin, applying a steroid under a wet dressing should just be done once a day and for no longer than a week at a time. Also, don't ever use a high-dose steroid under a dressing on your child's skin.
  • Using Tubifast bandages and garments, which come in a range of sizes and forms—as a vest with sleeves, tights, leggings, and socks—that make wet dressings easy to use.

Don't use wraps on your child's face, head, or neck. In these areas, apply wet compresses instead.

Covering a Wet Dressing

A wet dressing is usually covered with a dry dressing. For example, if a child has eczema on their hands, you can cover their hands with a moisturizer, have them wear wet cotton gloves, and then put dry cotton gloves over the wet gloves. On other parts of your child's body, you might wrap the area with wet gauze and then wrap it again with dry gauze.

An extreme example might be to put wet pajamas on your child right after a bath and after you have applied a moisturizer to their skin, and then put dry pajamas over them. Do this at bedtime for three or four days during a bad eczema flare to help them sleep.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Academy of Dermatology. 3 techniques that can strengthen eczema treatment.

Additional Reading
  • Habif T. Clinical Dermatology, 4th ed. Mosby; 2009.

  • Kliegman RM, Marcdante K, Behrman RE, Jenson HB. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th ed. Saunders; 2007.