Using Hydrocortisone Cream for a Rash

You can use hydrocortisone cream for rashes and other mild inflammatory skin conditions. As a topical corticosteroid, it works by easing the swelling, itching, and redness caused by dermatitis.

The cream is available over the counter in different strengths, such as 0.5% and 1.0%. It is also available by prescription, at a strength of 2.5%.

Hydrocortisone is also an ingredient used in a number of antibacterial or antifungal preparations, such as in athlete's foot creams. For some diaper rashes, physicians may also recommend that hydrocortisone or desonide (another topical corticosteroid) be used in addition to antifungal treatment.

This article discusses the use of hydrocortisone cream for rashes and other conditions, the conditions it cannot heal, how to use the cream, and possible side effects.

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Conditions Hydrocortisone Creams Can Treat

Hydrocortisone cream may be your go-to treatment for insect bites or stings. It is also a smart way to treat many allergic skin rashes, such as atopic dermatitis (eczema) and allergic contact dermatitis (including poison ivy and poison oak).

Hydrocortisone cream can also relieve:

  • Irritant contact dermatitis, which is caused by contact with a chemical or physical irritant
  • Psoriasis
  • Seborrheic dermatitis, which affects the scalp, face, ears, and torso (and is also known as dandruff)

A physician may also recommend that hydrocortisone be used for anal itching related to hemorrhoids and/or itching of the outer female genitals.

In general, topical corticosteroids including hydrocortisone should not be regularly applied to the face or genital areas without first consulting with a physician.

Conditions Hydrocortisone Creams Cannot Treat

Hydrocortisone is not usually useful as a treatment for hives (urticaria). This is because hives are caused by histamine, not chronic skin inflammation.

Histamine is a chemical produced by the immune system in response to allergens, which are allergy-causing substances. A reaction can sometimes cause a rash. In this case, an oral antihistamine may be the best treatment choice.

Hydrocortisone cream should also not be used for:

  • Acne: In fact, the cream could make it worse.
  • Broken skin, including blisters, boils, ulcers, or chancre sores
  • Internal genital itching
  • Rosacea and impetigo: The cream can upset both conditions.

How to Use Hydrocortisone Cream

Cortizone is a popular brand-name hydrocortisone cream sold over the counter. There are also many generic versions. OTC options are typically applied to the affected area two or three times per day.

Prescription hydrocortisone creams, which are higher potency, are also available. Some examples include Hydrocort and Aquacort. These may be used less often than OTC options.

In either case, it's important to use the product as directed by your provider or to follow the directions on the package.

To use hydrocortisone cream:

  1. Apply a thin film of cream, rubbing it in until fully absorbed. Keep it away from your eyes and mouth.
  2. Wash your hands thoroughly after each use.
  3. Apply at the same time(s) every day.

To avoid complications that can come with improper use:

  • Never apply hydrocortisone cream to broken skin or if you notice any signs of infection, such as red streaks, warm skin, or pus.
  • Don't wrap or bandage treated skin unless directed to do so by your healthcare provider.
  • Wait at least 10 minutes before applying another topical product to the same area. Using them at different times of the day is an easy way to ensure this.

If You Forget to Apply Hydrocortisone Cream

If you miss a dose, apply the cream as soon as you can. If it's almost time for the next dose, skip the missed one and continue your normal treatment schedule.

How Long Should You Use Hydrocortisone Cream?

A treatment plan can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, or until the rash and itchiness have resolved. A full treatment should last no longer than four weeks.

Lower-potency versions of the cream (such as 0.5%) can be applied to your face for shorter periods of time, if recommended by your provider.

Use on Children

Parents may want to use hydrocortisone cream to treat their child's skin condition, most commonly eczema or diaper rash.

Some healthcare providers don't recommend using hydrocortisone cream on children younger than age 2 because of potential health risks. Prolonged use of the cream on infants has been linked with slower growth and delayed weight gain.

It's generally OK to use the cream on older children, but your healthcare provider may recommend only using it for a maximum of four or five days.

It's best to speak with a pediatrician before using hydrocortisone cream on your child. Other products may be gentler and work just as well.

Side Effects of Hydrocortisone Cream

It's a good idea to avoid long-term use of any topical steroid on your face, particularly high-potency types. You risk thinning and otherwise damaging your skin. In the worst cases, you could even trigger irreversible skin damage.

Chronic steroid exposure to the eyes can cause cataracts and other sight-compromising complications.

Using topical steroids for longer than recommended could cause:

  • Bruising
  • Discoloration
  • Skin atrophy (thinning of the skin)
  • Stretch marks
  • Spider veins

Stop the medication and contact your healthcare provider if any of these events occur while you are using hydrocortisone cream:

Warnings and Interactions

Your healthcare provider may recommend that you or your child not use hydrocortisone cream if you or they:

  • Are allergic to hydrocortisone or any of the other ingredients in a topical product that contains hydrocortisone
  • Have diabetes
  • Have Cushing's syndrome, a condition in which the body makes too much cortisol
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Are under age 2
  • Are experiencing an infection or sore on or near the area where the cream would be applied

Before using hydrocortisone cream, make sure to tell your healthcare provider if you or your child falls into those categories.

Kaiser Permanente doesn't list any drug interactions with hydrocortisone 2.5%, but it recommends sharing any medications or topical treatments you're taking or using with a healthcare provider before using the product.


Hydrocortisone cream is good at treating mild inflammatory skin conditions. Be sure you know what these conditions include. In general, the cream should not be used on skin that is broken. Use it wisely and according to the instructions to avoid side effects.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What types of rashes are treated with topical steroids?

    Topical steroids like hydrocortisone cream are used to treat a number of skin conditions including:

    • Atopic dermatitis
    • Bee stings
    • Contact dermatitis
    • Eczema
    • Female genital itching not due to a yeast infection
    • Hemorrhoids and anal itching
    • Insect bites
    • Poison ivy and poison oak
    • Psoriasis
    • Seborrheic dermatitis
  • What kind of rash gets worse with steroid cream?

    A fungal infection will worsen from a steroid cream. Common fungal rashes include:

    • Athlete's foot
    • Jock itch
    • Ringworm
    • Yeast infection

    Ringworm, jock itch, and athlete’s foot are caused by a fungus known as tinea. Yeast infections are caused by a fungus known as candida. Some diaper rashes are also caused by yeast.

    Steroid creams should not be used on fungal infections without also using an antifungal medication because when used alone, steroids can allow a fungal infection to spread and worsen.

  • Can I use hydrocortisone cream on my face?

    No, you should not put hydrocortisone cream on your face except under the direction of your healthcare provider. Hydrocortisone and other steroids can irritate facial skin and can potentially lead to irreversible skin damage. Never put hydrocortisone on acne.  

12 Sources
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.
  1. Merck Manual Professional Version. Principles of topical dermatologic therapy.

  2. Merck Manual Consumer Version. Treatment of skin disorders.

  3. Merck Manual Professional Version. Urticaria.

  4. Merck Manual Consumer Version. Genital itching.

  5. Medline Plus. Hydrocortisone topical.

  6. MedlinePlus. Hydrocortisone cream.

  7. National Health Service. Hydrocortisone for skin.

    1. Dhar S, Seth J, Parikh D. Systemic side-effects of topical corticosteroidsIndian J Dermatol. 2014;59:460-4.
  8. Kaiser Permanente. Hydrocortisone for itching.

  9. Coondoo, A. Phiske, M, Verma, S, Lahiri, K. Side-effects of topical steroids: A long overdue revisit. Indian Dermatol Online. 2014;Oct.-Dec.:416-425. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.142483.

  10. Kaiser Permanente. Hydrocortisone 2.5% topical ointment.

  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Steroid creams can make ringworm worse.

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.