Cheap Eczema Treatments

Atopic Dermatitis Treatment for About $10 A Month

Mother applying pain or itch relieving pommade on her daughter's elbow.

Atopic dermatitis, also known as childhood eczema, is a common allergic skin disorder most commonly affecting young children, although may also affect adults as well. It presents as severe itching of the skin, which results in scratching, which then causes the formation of a rash. Therefore, atopic dermatitis is an itch that when scratched, rashes—rather than a rash that itches. The most common locations of atopic dermatitis, particularly in older children, include the flexural areas, or skin folds, including the bend of the elbows, behind the knees, wrists and ankles—but can affect any skin that is scratched.

Atopic dermatitis can be triggered by various allergens, particularly food allergies in young children such as milk and egg; older children and adults are less affected by food allergies but are more likely to have environmental allergies such as dust mite and pet dander as the trigger for their atopic dermatitis. Defects of a certain protein in the skin, called filaggrin, result in a break-down of the skin barrier. This makes people with atopic dermatitis more susceptible to allergic and irritant triggers (such as sweating, heat and dry air), resulting in a vicious “itch-scratch” cycle. This refers to the fact that scratching causes more itching to occur, which results in more scratching, and ultimately more itching.

What Is the Treatment for Atopic Dermatitis?

The treatment of atopic dermatitis focuses on good skin care, particularly skin moisturizing as a way to replenish the skin barrier that most people with atopic dermatitis lack.

The use of topical corticosteroids also works to decrease the itch that occurs with atopic dermatitis, therefore leading to less scratching and less rash. I’m always surprised that most people, especially children, with atopic dermatitis don’t follow the simple measures required to keep their disease process under control.

As a result, the treatment of atopic dermatitis somehow has become overly complicated and unnecessarily expensive.

A close friend of the family, who is an elementary school teacher, asked my advice regarding one of her students who apparently suffers from severe atopic dermatitis. The child’s itching and rash is apparent during the school day, and interferes with the child’s ability to perform well in the classroom. The teacher asked the child’s parents if the child had been taken to their family doctor for treatment. The family told our friend that indeed they had gone to the doctor, and after a very brief visit where no education was given to the family regarding appropriate skin care, the child was prescribed a tiny tube of a very expensive topical corticosteroid. Given the family’s limited economic resources, the child continued to suffer from a very easily treatable disease process, at very low cost with the right information.

Are There Inexpensive Treatments for Atopic Dermatitis?

My recommendation to the teacher was to suggest a few items from the drug or grocery store that could be obtained for about $10 per month, which could significantly improve the control of the child’s eczema.

Keep in mind that I am not this child’s physician, did not make a diagnosis or provide any type of treatment to the child—other than to provide some advice based on what my friend told me. It is important to realize that there are complications of atopic dermatitis (especially skin infections) as well as mimickers of atopic dermatitis—both of which require specialty care by a physician trained in the diagnosis and management of atopic dermatitis. People with severe atopic dermatitis should also be assessed for the allergies to common food and environmental allergies that could be the cause of their symptoms.

Skin Moisturizing: $3-4 Per Month

Moisturizers are expensive, and this is one of the items that people overspend on. There are a number of very good products on the market that are specially designed to treat atopic dermatitis, such as Aveeno skin products. They are also extremely expensive. Other expensive, quality products include Eucerin, Aquaphor, Vaseline Intensive Care, Lubriderm, and any number of brand name products aimed to treat “dry skin.” Other people waste money on Vaseline (petroleum jelly), which is not a moisturizer at all, and in fact, only seals any existing moisture into the skin.

One of the best and cheapest skin moisturizers is vegetable shortening. A large can (tub) of a generic version of Crisco can be purchased for under $4 (according to and can be used on large areas of the skin once or twice a day at the cost of 13 cents a day. (Of course, vegetable shortening should not be used if a person is allergic to soy.) Moisturizers work best on the skin after a person has soaked in plain warm (not hot) water for 15-20 minutes, blotted themselves dry and smeared a moisturizer on their entire bodies. This technique, called “soak and smear,” is one of my best techniques to get rapid control of a person’s severe atopic dermatitis and also works well for contact dermatitis and pruritus in general. I usually suggest this technique be performed nightly for 1-2 weeks until the itch/rash is controlled, then perform two to three nights per week in order to maintain control. For worsening itch/rash, resume nightly treatments until the skin is better.

Topical Corticosteroids: $6-7 Per Month

The use of topical corticosteroid creams is often needed to get the itching and rash of atopic dermatitis under control. While skin moisturizing is a long-term approach to prevent or minimize the recurrence of atopic dermatitis, topical corticosteroids should be used to achieve control of symptoms in the short-term. Many physicians think that only expensive, high-potency topical corticosteroids will treat atopic dermatitis. For some people with severe atopic dermatitis with very thickened (lichenified) skin, or involvement of the palms of the hands or soles of the feet, this may be true. However, for most people with atopic dermatitis, high potency topical corticosteroids aren’t necessary.

My suggestion is to purchase two 30-gram tubes of hydrocortisone 1%, one cream and one ointment. According to, these can be purchased for around $3 each. The hydrocortisone ointment can be used on the “worst areas” after bathing, and before the vegetable shortening (or other moisturizer) is applied. It is important to avoid the use of topical corticosteroids on the face, around the eyes or genital areas due to the concern for permanent side effects to include thinning of the skin or the formation of cataracts. During the day, when “greasy skin” from the use of ointments is less desirable, the use of hydrocortisone 1% cream can be used on areas of skin affected by atopic dermatitis.

Once the itch and rash of atopic dermatitis is under control, typically after 1-2 weeks of the use of “soak and smear” and topical corticosteroids, then a maintenance regimen should be followed. If not done, then it is likely that the itch/rash of atopic dermatitis will recur within a couple of weeks. However, if “soak and smear” is performed 2 to 3 nights a week, with a minimal amount of hydrocortisone cream or ointment applied to the “problem areas” before the application of the moisturizer, this will result in maintaining control of atopic dermatitis.

When Prescription Medications Are Needed

There are situations where the above-mentioned treatment regimens may not work to control atopic dermatitis. When they don’t, a person should see their doctor for other treatments. When a prescription strength topical corticosteroid is required, one inexpensive alternative is triamcinolone, which is available in cream and ointment forms, in various strengths, and comes in large sizes including an 80-gram tube (similar to the size of a large tube of toothpaste) and 454-gram (1 pound) jar. Triamcinolone is typically available on the so-called “$4 generic medication list” at retailers including Walmart, Target and many retail drug stores.

The above information is not meant to diagnose or treat any medical condition; this is the responsibility of a personal physician or other healthcare provider. Please seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms.


Atopic Dermatitis Practice Parameters. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2004;93:S1-21.

Beltrani J. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1999;104:S87-98.

Sicherer S. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1999;104:S114-22.

Continue Reading