Eczema Treatment With Protopic or Elidel

Protopic and Elidel are two medications used to treat eczema that are classified as calcineurin inhibitors. Calcineurin is a chemical involved in the inflammation process, so blocking that chemical reduces inflammation. The calcineurin inhibitors change some of the functions of the immune system that specifically cause the rash of eczema, but don't suppress the whole immune system. They are chemically related to oral medication cyclosporine, which can be used to treat psoriasis.

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Improvement is seen within a week of starting either medication—redness and itching will decrease. Treatment is usually intermittent and used for flares. The medication can be discontinued after the rash resolves. Other benefits of Protopic and Elidel include:

  • Can be used for short-term and repeated courses
  • Do not cause thinning of the skin, stretch marks, and spider veins
  • Are safe for use anywhere on the body including the face, neck, around the eyes, groin, and in skin folds
  • Can be used safely in children as young as 2 years old

Side Effects

The main side effect seen with the use of Protopic and Elidel is itching and burning at the site immediately after application. These symptoms usually last about 15 minutes and resolve after a couple of days. In 2006, the FDA updated the labeling to include a warning about a possible risk of cancer with these medications. Because the long-term side effects of Protopic and Elidel are not known, they should not be the first prescription treatment you try for eczema. They are often prescribed if topical steroids are not controlling your eczema symptoms. Protopic and Elidel should not be used if you have a skin infection including viral infections like chickenpox, herpes, or molluscum contagiousum.

How to Use Protopic and Elidel

  • Wash your hands before applying the cream.
  • Put a thin layer of cream on the affected skin twice a day. Use only the minimum amount necessary to cover the area.
  • Wash your hands after applying the cream.
  • You can stop using the medication when your symptoms go away
  • Do not tan in a tanning bed during the time you use these medications, even if they aren't on your skin.
  • Use sunscreen daily.
  • See your healthcare provider if your symptoms have not improved in 6 weeks.
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • "Elidel Information." 26 June 2006. 22 Sep 2007 
  • "Protopic Information." 26 June 2006. 22 Sep 2007
  • Habif, Thomas. "Atopic Dermatitis." Clinical Dermatology, 4th Edition. Ed. Thomas Habif, MD. New York: Mosby, 2004. 122-3.

By Heather L. Brannon, MD
Heather L. Brannon, MD, is a family practice physician in Mauldin, South Carolina. She has been in practice for over 20 years.