Best Creams for Itchy Skin or Pruritus

Topical Steroids, Antihistamines, and Anesthetics

If you have itchy skin, also known as pruritus, there are many different lotions or creams you can try to relieve symptoms. They typically include one of the following active ingredients:

  • Topical steroids: Reduce inflammation
  • Topical antihistamines: Reduce itching associated with allergy
  • Topical anesthetics: Numb the skin

There are many different things to consider when choosing an anti-itch cream. One big factor is understanding what is causing your itch. Keep in mind that itchy skin can be caused by allergies, bug bites, burns, or a long-term or recurring skin condition like psoriasis and eczema.

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.

Getting to the root cause of your itching is important, so be sure to speak to your healthcare provider before purchasing an over-the-counter cream.

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

Person holding a jar of cream with some cream on their fingers
Maria Fuchs / Getty Images

Topical Steroids

Topical steroids are the best choice of anti-itch cream for ant type of inflammation of the skin. 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 have fewer side effects than oral steroids. Steroids should be used carefully and generally under the guidance of a healthcare provider.

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 least expensive.

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.

Lower-strength creams have a lower risk of side effects. How much cream you use can also make a difference.

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

  • The thickness of the skin (such as the eyelids versus the bottoms of the feet)
  • 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)

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 FDA-approved topical steroid for children age 3 months and older.

Topical Antihistamines

Antihistamines are used to treat allergies. 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 that range from mild to severe. An antihistamine blocks 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. 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 sensitivity 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 chronic skin issues and burns. Topical anesthetics 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

Topical anti-itch creams or lotions can help those with itchy skin find relief. Topical steroids, topical antihistamines, and topical anesthetics are the most common anti-itch medicines available. When selecting an anti-itch medicine, it's important to figure out the main cause of the itchiness so you can find the best anti-itch cream for your needs.

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

Dealing with itchy skin can feel incredibly frustrating, especially if you are unsure of the cause. Know that there are many anti-itch creams available for different types of skin concerns. Reach out to your medical provider if you need additional help figuring out how to find relief.

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