What Is the Best Cream for Itchy Skin?

Anesthetic, steroid, and antihistamine creams can help relieve itching

Itchy Skin Remedies
Jonathan Storey Collection/Stone

If you have itchy skin, also known as pruritis, there are many different topical lotions you can try to relieve symptoms. Most anti-itch creams contain one of three different types of active medications: topical antihistamines, topical anesthetics, and topical steroids.

Finding the Best Anti-Itch Cream

What type of cream you need may also depend on the cause of the itch. Itching can be caused by allergies and hives as well as skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.

Anti-itch creams can also help treat itching caused by infections such as yeast infections, ringworm, and scabies. If you have an infection, you will also need an anti-fungal medication. 

If you aren't sure what is causing your itching, speak to your doctor before purchasing an over the counter cream. If your itching is caused by an infection, an anti-itch cream will only mask your symptoms, not treat the underlying cause. 

Topical Antihistamines

Antihistamines are a common medication used to treat allergies. In most cases, antihistamines are taken orally to relieve symptoms of an allergy attack. These types of anti-itch creams may also be helpful in treating eczema. Topical antihistamines, such as those found in Benadryl cream and Caladryl lotion, should be used with caution since these medications can result in a future allergy to either the oral or topical forms of Benadryl (diphenhydramine).

Topical anesthetics

Topical anesthetics are typically used to numb areas of pain. Some anesthetics, such as found in Lanacane cream (benzocaine), can cause contact dermatitis. While these products may have some benefit, especially for dental uses (such as with Orajel for mouth pain), they are not recommended for treating itchy skin.

Topical Steroids

Topical steroids are the best choice of anti-itch cream. They are available in a variety of strengths and formulas and can be purchased over the counter as hydrocortisone cream. Ointments and creams are the strongest topical steroids while gels and sprays are the weakest. Topical steroids should be used with caution and generally under the direction of a physician, they generally have few side effects when used for short periods of time and when taken as prescribed. Topical steroids also have fewer side effects than oral steroids. 

Talk to your child's pediatrician before giving your child topical steroids. Children are more prone to the side effects of topical steroids, so weaker topical steroids, like gels and sprays, should be used if possible. Topical steroids, like Cutivate (fluticasone propionate) and Elocon (mometasone furoate), may be safer for kids since less of the steroid is absorbed. Cutivate is also the only FDA-approved topical steroid for children 3 months and older.

If you are using an over the counter anti-itch cream and your itching persists without relief, speak to your physician. There may be a stronger prescription-strength medication that can help or an underlying cause that needs to be treated before symptoms can be relieved.

Source:

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

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