Author: Vanessa Ngan, Staff Writer, 2005.
Urea is naturally present in healthy skin. It is one of three natural moisturising factors (NMF) in the outer horny layer of our skin. The other two NMF are lactic acid and amino acids. There are markedly reduced amounts of urea in dry skin conditions.
Topical preparations of synthetically manufactured urea, either alone or in combination with other medicines, can be particularly useful in treating scaly and itchy dry skin conditions including:
Urea is also known as carbamide.
Urea preparations are emollients that are essential in the management of dry skin conditions. Emollients moisturise dry skin by reducing water loss from the epidermis (upper layer of skin) resulting in softer and more supple skin.
The specific actions of urea include:
Urea preparations come in several forms and strengths. Available dosage forms include cream, lotion, shampoo, gel and shower/bath washes. Strengths of urea preparations range from 3-40%. The form and strength chosen depends on the condition that is being treated and the severity of the condition.
The most commonly used urea preparation in New Zealand is a 10% cream. The cream helps urea to retain water for longer in the stratum corneum and prevents water loss by slowing down evaporation. Urea 40% aqueous solution can be made up by a pharmacist and has been used for the treatment of black hairy tongues, acne conglobata, and to dissolve and remove diseased nails.
Most urea preparations are available from your pharmacy. Higher strength preparations and preparations that contain other active ingredients, e.g. corticosteroids (hydrocortisone), may only be available on a doctor's prescription.
Urea preparations are usually well tolerated. Side effects that may occur include mild stinging, itching and skin rash. These usually do not require medical attention unless they continue and become bothersome.
© 2019 DermNet New Zealand Trust.
DermNet NZ does not provide an online consultation service. If you have any concerns with your skin or its treatment, see a dermatologist for advice.