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Hydrocortisone cream

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read
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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 up to 2.5%, although the maximum strength found over 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 2 years old. If you have a flare of eczema, the first step is usually to try a medical-grade moisturizer. If you have tried moisturizing 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 diaper rash and other skin problems in children under 2 years old are only available on prescription.

Often, hydrocortisone is mixed with many other ingredients, such as treatments for bacteria or fungi. They are used to treat skin problems caused by certain infections. These combinations require a prescription from your doctor.

How does it work?

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

Should anyone avoid using it?

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

Hydrocortisone should be used for a maximum of 7 days in a row. It should not be used on any children under the age of 2 years. It should not be used on any open skin or sensitive body areas, such as the face or genitals. Some people complain of a burning sensation when first applied. However, this sensation tends to disappear after a few days.

How should I apply it?

Wash and dry your hands and then squeeze out the cream required. It is recommended to use a pea-sized amount for a palm-sized 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 afterward (unless you are treating the skin on your hands). Make sure, if treating eczema, that you are moisturizing up to 4 times a day to maximize the effect of the cream and ensure the irritation isn’t caused by dry skin.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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