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How Do I Choose the Best Anti-Itch Cream?

By Amanda Barnhart
Updated May 17, 2024
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Anti-itch creams are available in several different varieties, and they use different medications or active ingredients to control itching. Choosing the best anti-itch cream involves finding a product that works for your symptoms without causing too many undesirable side effects. Your doctor may also be able to help you find an effective topical product for itching from chronic conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis.

Antihistamines prevent and control allergic reactions to substances called histamines that can cause itching, redness, and swelling. An anti-itch cream that contains an antihistamine can help control itching from allergies and irritants. These creams are for short-term use of two to three days at a time, as using them for longer could result in future allergic reactions to antihistamines. People using an antihistamine cream should not take oral antihistamines at the same time, as this can result in an overdose.

An anti-itch cream that contains a topical anesthetic can help relieve itching from minor scratches and contact with irritating substances, such as insect venom, poison oak, or poison ivy. These creams work by dulling nerve endings in the skin. Topical anesthetics are available in different strengths, but they should not generally be used in children under two years old.

Topical corticosteroids are common active ingredients in anti-itch creams. They help control local itching and are often used for chronic conditions. An anti-itch cream that contains a corticosteroid works by preventing inflammation from an irritating substance that can lead to itching. Like other active ingredients, corticosteroids are available in varying strengths. The mildest form of anti-itch cream that is effective should be used to prevent side effects, such as stretch marks and skin thinning.

It’s important to be aware of the potential for side effects and allergic reactions when choosing an anti-itch cream. Topical medications are still medications, so using them exactly as directed can help minimize the risk of side effects or serious reactions from an overdose of the medication. Common side effects include burning and redness of the skin. Usually, discontinuing use of an anti-itch cream is enough to stop side effects, but occasionally an allergic reaction to a medication that causes difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or mouth, dizziness, or a severe rash or hives requires emergency medical attention.

Tell your healthcare provider about any other medications you take before selecting an anti-itch cream. Some medications may interfere with the active ingredients in these creams. Some creams are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to use, but creams that contain corticosteroids should be avoided to prevent birth defects. Don’t use topical products on any area of broken skin and see a doctor for any areas that are weeping or appear infected.

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Discussion Comments
By burcinc — On Jan 19, 2015

@ddljohn-- Hydrocortisone is a very effective treatment but it is not something that can be used regularly and for long term. It is a steroid and if used for long periods of time, it can have negative consequences. First of all, the body can get used to the effects of the medication and it may stop working. Secondly, since it suppresses the immune system, it can cause the health condition to actually worsen over time.

Hydrocortisone is also used for skin conditions like dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis. These conditions also cause itching among other symptoms. But doctors only give it as a short-term treatment. Ideally, the underlying condition needs to be brought under control through other means. I personally recommend all natural products and creams. For example aloe vera is a great natural gel or cream that can control itching and inflammation.

By ddljohn — On Jan 18, 2015

@bluedolphin-- I had a similar issue a few years ago and the pharmacist recommended a 1% hydrocortisone ointment along with an over the counter allergy medication. After using both, the itching went away very quickly and never came back. Hydrocortisone cream is a great treatment for allergy caused itching. I now keep it in my medicine cabinet for situations like these.

By bluedolphin — On Jan 18, 2015

I've been experiencing itching on my legs since the past two days. It started soon after I moved into my new apartment. I have been doing a lot of cleaning and the itching started after I cleaned the carpets.

I'm not sure what the problem is but I need to get rid of this itching fast. It's difficult to sleep at night and I'm hurting myself scratching all day. What is the best cream for this? I tried regular lotion but it hasn't helped.

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