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Dermatol Online J. 2013 Nov 15;19(11):20392.

Urea: a comprehensive review of the clinical literature.

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  • 1Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.



Urea is an organic compound that has been used clinically for dermatological diseases for more than a century. Urea is a potent emollient and keratolytic agent, making urea an effective monotherapy for conditions associated with dry and scaly skin. A systematic review of the literature is needed to provide clinicians with evidence-based applications of urea in the treatment of dermatological diseases.


A PubMed search was conducted using the term "urea" combined with "skin," "ichthyosis," "psoriasis," "xerosis," "emollient," "onychomycosis," "dermatitis," and "avulsion." A total of 81 publications met inclusion criteria and were evaluated. Treatment indication(s), test agents, number of subjects, treatment protocols, results, and side effects were recorded.


Effective treatment with urea has been reported for the following conditions: ichthyosis, xerosis, atopic dermatitis/eczema, contact dermatitis, radiation induced dermatitis, psoriasis/seborrheic dermatitis, onychomycosis, tinea pedis, keratosis, pruritus, and dystrophic nails. Furthermore, urea has been used with other medications as a penetration enhancing agent. Mild irritation is the most common adverse event, proving urea to be a safe and tolerable topical drug without systemic toxicity.


Urea is a safe, effective dermatologic therapy with wide-ranging clinical utility and minimal, non-systemic side effects. In order to optimize patient care, dermatologists should be well informed with regards to urea's indications and efficacy.

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