Anti-Itch Creams and Remedies for Children

Itching is a frustrating symptom for kids. Whether it's caused by bug bites, hives, or poison ivy, itching can leave kids scratching all day and sleepless at night.

You may not always know exactly why your child is itching. Still, some common treatments can bring relief.

This article looks at what you can do to help with the itch. It lists some over-the-counter treatments plus a few that can be prescribed by your pediatrician.

how to relieve itching in babies
Verywell / Emily Roberts

Steps to Take at Home

You can take some simple steps to help the itch and prevent harm to the skin from scratching. For example, you can:

  • Keep your child's fingernails short
  • Dress your child in loose, light, cotton clothing
  • Prevent overheating, since sweat may make your child itch more
  • Take cool or lukewarm showers or baths (not hot)
  • Keep your child distracted
  • Prevent the skin from getting too dry
  • Avoid things that trigger itching, especially if your child has eczema, sensitive skin, or allergies
  • Use insect repellents and teach your child how to avoid poison ivy
  • Have your child wear soft cotton gloves to bed to protect skin from scratching

Topical Steroids

Topical steroids are the go-to treatment for itch relief. These creams or ointments that you apply to the skin work well for inflammatory or allergic itches, such as bug bites and poison ivy.

Most of these creams contain 0.5% or 1% hydrocortisone. Popular brands include:

  • Aveeno 1% Hydrocortisone Anti-Itch Cream
  • Cortizone 10
  • Cortaid
  • Lanacort Cool Cream

You can also try a store brand of hydrocortisone cream made by Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, and others.

Avoid steroids if you think an infection is causing the itch. Rubbing a steroid cream on infected skin can make the rash worse. It can also lower your body's ability to fight off bacteria.

Non-Steroidal Remedies

You can apply a non-steroidal anti-itch product to the skin along with a topical steroid.

Some creams or gels contain an antihistamine, like Benadryl (diphenhydramine). These block the activity of the chemical histamine, which is involved in allergic reactions and itching. Be careful not to apply Benadryl cream and give your child oral Benadryl together. Benadryl can make children sleepy even in normal doses.

Watch your kids for reactions to anesthetics. These skin-numbing creams often have "-caine" in their names. Allergies to these medications are fairly common.

Topical medications that are not steroids include:

  • Aveeno Anti-Itch Cream with Natural Colloidal Oatmeal
  • Band-Aid Anti-Itch Gel
  • Benadryl Itch-Stopping Cream
  • Caladryl Clear Topical Analgesic Skin Lotion
  • Calamine Lotion
  • Domeboro Astringent Solution Powder Packets
  • Gold Bond Maximum Strength Medicated Anti-Itch Cream
  • Itch-X Anti-Itch Gel with Soothing Aloe Vera
  • Lanacane
  • Sarna Ultra Anti-Itch Cream

You can apply a wet dressing or compress to the skin. You can also prepare a soak with Domeboro powder mixed with water. This is sometimes called a modified Burow's solution. Another option is an Aveeno oatmeal bath.

Keep over-the-counter anti-itch medications handy for times when your child gets an itchy rash. Scratching makes most rashes worse.

Oral Antihistamines

Benadryl is the product most parents use when their kids are itchy. The downsides are that Benadryl does not last long (about four to six hours) and can make kids sleepy.

You don't need a prescription for Benadryl. It comes in several forms: liquid, chewable, and dissolving tablets. Kids who can't swallow pills can try another form.

A prescription-strength drug such as Atarax or Vistaril (hydroxyzine) can sometimes help children with stubborn itching. They usually work a little longer than Benadryl (about six to eight hours).

Prescription Treatments

If you don't know why your child is itching or you can't get the itching under control, a trip to your pediatrician might be a good idea.

Your child's doctor can diagnose the problem and prescribe a prescription-strength medication if needed. These creams often include stronger steroid doses, such as:

  • Cutivate cream 0.05%
  • Elocon cream 0.1%
  • Locoid cream 0.1%
  • Triamcinolone acetonide 0.1%
  • Westcort cream 0.2%

Other options might include oral antihistamines, an oral corticosteroid such as prednisone, or other medications. The treatment will depend on what's causing the itch.

For example, a child with scabies, which is both itchy and contagious, might need Elimite to treat parasites. Prednisone might help a child with poison ivy, but a child with chickenpox might need to avoid steroids.

Summary

Itching can be hard for kids and parents. To ease the itch, keep clothes loose and light. Water may help. Try warm or cool baths with anti-itch treatments. Cool compresses are another option.

You can buy itch-stopping topical remedies with or without steroids in them. You can also try oral anti-itch medications.

If these methods don't stop the itch, or you aren't sure what's causing the problem, call your healthcare provider. The right treatment depends on a correct diagnosis.

A Word From Verywell

When your child is itching, you can feel helpless. You can try a number of simple measures to increase their comfort. You can also reach for a trusted over-the-counter or prescription treatment. If you're not sure what's causing the itch, or if what you've tried isn't working, call your pediatrician or family doctor.

10 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. Kang SY, Um JY, Chung BY, Kim JC, Park CW, Kim HO. Differential diagnosis and treatment of itching in children and adolescents. Biomedicines. 2021;9(8):919. doi:10.3390/biomedicines9080919

  2. Jaros J, Wilson C, Shi VY. Fabric selection in atopic dermatitis: an evidence-based reviewAm J Clin Dermatol. 2020;21(4):467-482. doi:10.1007/s40257-020-00516-0.

  3. Murota H, Yamaga K, Ono E, Murayama N, Yokozeki H, Katayama I. Why does sweat lead to the development of itch in atopic dermatitisExp Dermatol. 2019;28(12):1416-1421. doi:10.1111/exd.13981

  4. Yarbrough KB, Neuhaus KJ, Simpson EL. The effects of treatment on itch in atopic dermatitis. Dermatologic Therapy. 2013;26(2):110-119. doi:10.1111/dth.12032

  5. Chaudhary RG, Rathod SP, Jagati A, Baxi K, Ambasana A, Patel D. Prescription and Usage Pattern of Topical Corticosteroids among Out-patient Attendees with Dermatophyte Infections and Its Analysis: A Cross-sectional, Survey-based StudyIndian Dermatol Online J. 2019;10(3):279-283. doi:10.4103/idoj.IDOJ_335_18

  6. Johnson & Johnson. Benadryl frequently asked questions.

  7. To D, Kossintseva I, de Gannes G. Lidocaine contact allergy is becoming more prevalentDermatologic Surgery. 2014;40(12):1367-1372. doi:10.1097/dss.0000000000000190

  8. National Library of Medicine. Hydroxyzine.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scabies.

  10. Price NB, Grose C. Corticosteroids Contribute to Serious Adverse Events Following Live Attenuated Varicella Vaccination and Live Attenuated Zoster Vaccination. Vaccines (Basel). 2021;9(1):23. doi:10.3390/vaccines9010023

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
 Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.