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Hydrocortisone cream

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger HendersonReviewed on 13.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

Hydrocortisone cream is a short-term steroid cream used to treat different causes of skin inflammation. The cream can be used to treat eczema, heat rash, and insect bites, as well as many other inflammatory skin conditions. The strength of the products ranges from 0.1% to 2.5%, although the maximum strength found behind the counter is 1%. There are three main formulations of hydrocortisone; cream, ointment, and lotion.

Doctor’s advice

Who is it for?

Hydrocortisone is suitable for most adults and children over 10 years old. If you have a flare of eczema, the first step is usually to try a medical-grade moisturiser. If you have tried moisturising and seen no improvement, another option could be to try a steroid cream such as hydrocortisone. The cream aims to help inflammatory skin conditions by reducing inflammation and irritation for a short period of time. They are particularly useful at controlling short-term flares of skin and breaking the itch-scratch cycle. Steroid creams for nappy rash and other skin problems in children under 10 years old are only available on prescription.

Often, hydrocortisone is mixed with many other ingredients such as treatments for bacteria or fungi. This is used to treat skin problems caused by certain infections. Antifungal combination creams like Daktacort can be found behind the counter, however, antibacterial creams are through a prescription from your doctor only.

How does it work?

Hydrocortisone is a steroid (corticosteroid) and reduces the body's response to inflammatory reactions. By applying it directly to inflamed skin, the aim is to reduce inflammation in that area using the least amount of steroid possible.

Should anyone avoid taking it?

Like all medications, don’t take them if you have previously had an allergic reaction to the medication, or if you have other medications or medical conditions where you would normally discuss with your doctor or pharmacist before starting something new.

Hydrocortisone cream available over the counter should normally be used for a maximum of 7 days in a row and should not be used on any children under the age of 10 (unless recommended by your doctor). It cannot be used on any open skin and on any sensitive areas of the body, such as the face. Some people complain of a burning sensation when first applied, however, this sensation tends to disappear after a few days of applying.

How should I apply it?

Wash and dry your hands and then squeeze out the amount of cream required. It is recommended to use a pea-size amount for a palm-size surface area. Spread the cream in a thin layer over the area of irritated skin. Carefully smooth it into your skin in the direction the hair grows until it disappears.

Be careful not to get the cream into broken skin or cuts. Wash your hands afterwards (unless you are treating the skin on your hands). Make sure if treating eczema that you are moisturising up to 4 times a day to maximise the effect of the cream and also to ensure the irritation isn’t being caused by dry skin.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 13.10.2023