Hydrocortisone Cream for Babies

Babies can experience itchy, red skin for a variety of reasons. Their skin is sensitive and easily irritated. While hydrocortisone cream is a go-to for adults with irritated skin, it typically is not recommended for children under the age of 2 unless otherwise directed by a healthcare provider.

This article will discuss hydrocortisone cream and babies, and other ways to treat itchy skin. 

Close-Up Of Cute Baby Boy With Skin Allergy Lying On Bed - stock photo

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What Is Hydrocortisone Cream?

Hydrocortisone cream is a topical corticosteroid medication. It works by activating the natural substances in the skin that can reduce swelling. 

It is used to treat skin conditions that cause redness, swelling, or itching of the skin. Hydrocortisone cream can help to relieve these symptoms but will not cure the underlying cause. Hydrocortisone cream should always be used exactly as prescribed by your healthcare provider.

Unless directed by a pediatrician or other healthcare provider, hydrocortisone cream is generally not recommended for babies under the age of 2 due to potential health risks associated with it. Although harmful side effects are rare, children who use hydrocortisone cream regularly for a long time may be more likely to experience slowed growth rates and delayed weight gain.

Side Effects and Risks

Common side effects of hydrocortisone cream include skin dryness and irritation, as well as increased hair growth. Side effects to report to your healthcare provider include: 

What Is Making My Baby Itch? 

The best way to treat your baby’s itchy skin is to determine the underlying cause. From there, you and your child's pediatrician will be able to determine the right treatment plan for your little one. 

Diaper Rash (Baby Contact Dermatitis)

Diaper rash is a common skin condition that most babies experience at some point. It occurs when the skin under the diaper breaks down and causes a red rash. 

Common symptoms of diaper rash are redness and irritation on the skin under the diaper. Diaper rash can be very uncomfortable. If home remedies are not effective, see your primary care provider or pediatrician. 

Treatments and Home Remedies for Diaper Rash

The key to treating diaper rash is prevention. Help your child avoid diaper rash by changing dirty diapers (even wet ones) as soon as possible. When moisture is trapped in the diaper, skin breakdown can occur. Other diaper rash remedies include:

  • Gentle cleansing: To prevent diaper rash from becoming infected, it is important to keep your child’s skin clean and dry. Use a warm washcloth or alcohol-free wipes when changing your child’s diaper. If the rash is severe, use a squirt bottle with warm water to avoid rubbing the skin. 
  • Going diaper-free: Once you have washed your child’s skin, allow them to remain diaper-free as long as possible. This allows the skin to air dry, which can lead to quicker healing. 
  • Zinc oxide: Choose a diaper rash cream that contains zinc oxide and use it frequently when your child has diaper rash. Apply a thick layer with each diaper change and continue using until your child’s skin heals. 

Baby Eczema

Eczema refers to a group of conditions that cause the skin to become irritated, red, itchy, and swollen. Eczema is relatively common in babies and young children. It is not contagious and cannot be passed from person-to-person. 

Eczema usually appears as a red, itchy rash. Babies usually experience eczema on their face and scalp. The skin may drain clear liquid as well. As babies age, you may notice eczema patches on their elbows and knees. 

Toddlers usually get eczema on their elbows, knees, wrists, hands, and ankles. They may have dry, scaly patches around their mouths and eyes too. 

Treatments and Home Remedies for Eczema

One of the most effective treatments for eczema in babies is to avoid your child’s triggers. These can include saliva, sweat, dry air, tobacco smoke, pet dander, or other irritants. If you are able to determine your child’s triggers, work with your healthcare provider to come up with a plan for avoiding them. In addition, eczema treatments for babies include:

  • Moisturization: Apply a thick, quality moisturizer to your child’s skin at least twice a day.
  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors: These medications (recommended for children over the age of 2) can help to prevent redness and itching in the skin. 
  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics may be needed if a patch of skin becomes infected due to scratching.
  • Antihistamines: Antihistamines can help to relieve the itching associated with eczema. 
  • Steroid creams: Your healthcare provider may recommend a short course of steroid cream to get your child’s eczema symptoms under control. 
  • Oatmeal bath: Adding colloidal oatmeal to your little one’s bath may reduce itching.
  • Cool compress: Apply a cool, wet washcloth to your child’s skin to help ease the redness and itching. 
  • Prevent scratching: It is natural for babies and young children with eczema to scratch their skin. This can make eczema worse and lead to infection. Try to keep any eczema areas of the skin covered and keep your child’s nails trimmed. 

Foods to Avoid

Eczema flares can be caused by allergens. If your little one is allergic to a certain food or group of foods, they could experience a flare (worsening of symptoms) in their eczema symptoms anytime they come in contact with it. However, it can be difficult to determine if your child’s eczema is related to food allergies because skin allergic reactions may occur days after exposure. Practitioners generally do not recommend elimination diets for eczema. 

If you are concerned that your child’s eczema gets worse after eating certain food, talk with your healthcare provider. They may recommend temporarily removing dairy or processed foods from your child’s diet and observing their skin for changes. 

Bathing Babies With Eczema

Daily baths are an important part of eczema treatment in babies. First, the bath works to remove dirt and other irritants from the skin. After the bath, gently pat your baby’s skin dry and apply a thick moisturizing cream to help lock in moisture. Eczema skin is very dry, so using a moisturizer after bathing can be very effective. Be sure to use lukewarm water in your child’s bath and avoid any soaps that contain dyes, fragrances, or harsh additives. 

Allergies

Allergic dermatitis refers to skin irritation caused by an allergic reaction. Substances like fragrances, nickel, and poison ivy can cause an itchy, red rash when they touch the skin. It’s also possible to experience skin irritation from substances like detergents or soaps. These substances can cause irritant contact dermatitis and are not considered allergic reactions. 

Skin allergies in babies can present as:

  • Red, itchy rash
  • Blisters
  • Burning
  • Difficulty sleeping 

Treatments and Home Remedies

Depending on which allergen caused your baby’s skin irritation, the treatment options will vary. Your doctor may recommend a short-term course of steroids to ease the symptoms. From there, your medical team will work with you to determine which substances irritate your baby’s skin and how to avoid them. 

Natural Solutions for Baby’s Itchy Skin

If you are interested in pursuing natural remedies for your baby’s itchy skin, focus on products that add moisture back into the skin. Always talk with your healthcare provider or pediatrician before implementing a new natural product into your baby’s skin-care routine. Some natural solutions are:

  • Coconut oil has been found to be a safe and effective treatment for dry skin. It moisturizes the skin while improving the skin’s barrier function, but more study is needed to establish it as an effective treatment for eczema. Also, in rare cases, people can be allergic to coconut oil.
  • Colloidal oatmeal or oat oil can add moisture and decrease inflammation. Oats have antioxidant properties that may be helpful in promoting wound healing.

To help prevent skin irritation, wash your baby’s clothes in a gentle detergent that is free of scents. Look for baby products that are free of dyes, scents, or other additives.

Baby-Safe Cream Moisturizers and Ointments

Most babies with red, itchy, irritated skin require regular moisturization. Talk with your healthcare provider about the following types of moisturizers for your baby’s itchy skin:

  • Humectants like glycerin and urea attract water from the environment and the skin’s surface into deeper layers of skin. They also help the skin to shed dead cells and appear healthier. 
  • Occlusives like beeswax and mineral oil increase the water content of the skin by preventing water loss through evaporation. They are most effective when applied to damp skin, such as after toweling off from a shower. 
  • Emollients like lanolin and propylene glycol linoleate act as lubricants that fill in the crevices between skin cells. They improve skin’s hydration and smoothness. 

Summary

Hydrocortisone cream is a topical corticosteroid medication used to treat redness, itching, and swelling in the skin. It is generally not recommended for children under age 2 unless directed by your healthcare provider. Your baby’s skin may itch because of diaper rash, eczema, allergies, or other health conditions. 

A Word From Verywell 

When your baby is uncomfortable, it is natural to want to relieve that discomfort as soon as possible. Fortunately, there are several tools you can try to soothe your baby’s itching without using hydrocortisone cream. Talk with your healthcare provider about natural remedies and prescription medications. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is over-the-counter hydrocortisone 1% cream safe for toddlers?

    Over-the-counter hydrocortisone 1% cream is generally not recommended for children under age 2 because in rare instances it can lead to slowed growth rates and delayed weight gain. It is generally safe in children over age 2 when used for brief periods (one to two weeks at a time) but check with your pediatrician or healthcare provider if in doubt.

  • How can I soothe my baby's itchy skin?

    Talk with your healthcare provider about how to soothe your baby’s itchy skin. Possible treatments include moisturization, daily baths, antihistamines, and plant oils. 

  • Is steroid cream bad for babies?

    Strong steroid creams should be avoided in babies because they can lead to slowed growth rates and delayed weight gain. However, mild steroid creams such as over-the-counter hydrocortisone 1% cream may be used for babies with eczema, or contact or allergic dermatitis, but check with your pediatrician or other healthcare provider before using it.

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