The 3 Best Anti-Itch Creams to Soothe Itchy Skin

Topical Steroids, Antihistamines, and Anesthetics

If you have itchy skin, also known as pruritus, there are several anti-itch lotions and creams you can try to get some relief. Some are available over the counter, while others require a prescription. Each type helps ease itching in a different way:

  • Topical steroids reduce inflammation.
  • Topical antihistamines block a chemical in the body that produces itching related to an allergy.
  • Topical anesthetics numb the skin.

There are many different things to consider when choosing an anti-itch cream. One big factor is why you are itching in the first place. There are several possible causes, from allergies to bug bites, burns to irritations and allergies, and even long-term or recurring skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.

This article explores different types of anti-itch creams, which conditions they work best for, and when to speak with your doctor.

Types of Topical Anti-Itch Creams

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Topical Steroids

Topical steroids are the best anti-itch creams for any type of inflammation of the skin. This may be due to a variety of issues including rashes (dermatitis), eczema, and psoriasis.

They are available in a variety of strengths and formulas, both with and without a prescription. You're likely already familiar with hydrocortisone cream, the over-the-counter option.

Ointments and creams are the strongest topical steroids, while gels and sprays are the weakest. 

Topical steroids have fewer side effects than steroids taken by mouth. And lower-strength formulations pose less of a risk than more potent options. How much product you apply to your skin can also make a difference.

Regardless, all steroids should be used carefully and generally under the guidance of a healthcare provider.

Topical steroids are meant for short-term use and may lead to problems if overused. Potential issues include thinning of the skin, stretch marks (striae), and enlarged blood vessels.

Absorbency, or how well your body takes in the medication, depends on several things like: 

  • The thickness of the skin
  • How much skin is being treated
  • The strength of the cream
  • How often the cream is applied
  • The type of medication (for example, ointment versus gel)

Keep in mind that topical steroids can be quite expensive, as insurance does not always cover them. Generic and over-the-counter topical steroids tend to be the most wallet-friendly.

Can Children Use Topical Steroids?

It's important to talk to your child's pediatrician before applying a topical steroid. Children are more sensitive to the negative effects of topical steroids, so weaker products should be used if possible.

In addition, topical steroids like Cutivate (fluticasone) and Elocon (mometasone furoate) may be safer for kids since less of the steroid is absorbed. Cutivate is the only topical steroid approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for children age 3 months and older.

Topical Antihistamines

Allergies occur when your body's immune system overreacts to a triggering substance, known as an allergen, and releases a chemical called histamine. Histamine leads to allergy symptoms, such as itching, that range from mild to severe.

Antihistamines are medications that block the action of histamine in your body. This reduces your allergic response.

Antihistamine cream can be applied to the skin to help reduce or eliminate allergy-related itchiness. For example, if you have a metal allergy, you might use a topical antihistamine if you have a reaction to wearing a watch.

These types of anti-itch creams may also be helpful in treating eczema.

Topical antihistamines, such as Benadryl cream or Caladryl lotion, should be applied at the lowest dose for the shortest time needed. Long-term use of topical antihistamines may lead to increased side effects when taking oral antihistamines. Other negative reactions from overuse of topical antihistamines include irritation, rash, and sunlight sensitivity.

Topical Anesthetics

Topical anesthetics are typically used to numb pain, but they may also be used for itchiness associated with certain skin issues such as minor burns, bug bites, and poison ivy.

These drugs work by blocking nerve endings in the skin from sending signals to the brain.

Keep in mind that some anesthetics, such as Lanacane cream (benzocaine), can actually cause an itchy rash known as contact dermatitis.

Summary

Anti-itch creams and other products that get applied to the skin can help those with itchy skin find relief. Topical steroids, topical antihistamines, and topical anesthetics are the most common anti-itch medicines available.

To choose the right one, it's important that you know the main cause of your itchiness.

Be sure to speak with your doctor if you have any concerns regarding your symptoms, if your itching continues without relief, or if you plan on applying the cream to a child or infant.

A Word From Verywell

Anti-itch creams may also be used to help soothe itching caused by infections such as yeast infections, ringworm, and scabies. But, if you have an infection, you will also need additional medication to treat it.

This and the fact that some of these infections are contagious is even more reason to see a healthcare provider if you're not sure what's causing your itchiness.

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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.
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By Daniel More, MD
Daniel More, MD, is a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist. He is an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and currently practices at Central Coast Allergy and Asthma in Salinas, California.