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Permethrin cream

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read
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Permethrin cream is only available by prescription for the treatment of scabies. Scabies is a parasitic infestation, where mites burrow beneath the outer layers of the skin, laying eggs and spreading along the entire body. This leaves spots and blisters, often in “tracks” or “silver” lines. You may experience intense itching, especially at night. It can present anywhere on the body, but usually affects skin creases, such as between fingers or toes.

You may have scabies if you experience or show some of these symptoms or signs above. See your doctor for confirmation.

Who is it for?

Permethrin is suitable for 2 months of age and older. If left untreated, scabies can lead to skin infections which can have more serious complications.

How does it work?

The active ingredient in the cream is permethrin. It is an anti-parasitic agent. Once the cream is applied to the skin, it will get absorbed into the upper layers of the skin where the mites are living. Permethrin works by binding to the nerve cells of mites. This disrupts actions in the cells, leading to paralysis of the mites.

How to apply it

For children under 2 years: apply the cream over the whole body, INCLUDING the face and scalp. Pay particular attention to the areas between fingers and toes, under nails, wrists, armpits, palms of hands, and soles of feet, genitals, and buttocks.

For adults and children over the age of 2 years: apply the cream over the whole body but NOT the face and scalp.

For the elderly: apply the cream over the whole body, INCLUDING the face and scalp.

The treatment needs to be kept on between 8-12 hours. Reapply the cream to the hands if they are washed within 8 hours of treatment. A second course may be needed after a week.

Do’s and don’ts during treatment

Scabies typically spreads through prolonged skin contact. Therefore it can be passed easily between family members or sexual partners. Avoid sexual intercourse if you or your partner thinks they may have scabies.

During treatment, ensure you wash all bedding and clothing in the house at 120°F or higher on the first day of treatment. Ensure babies and children do not suck treatment from their hands by putting socks or mittens on them. Anytime anyone washes their hands ensure they reapply permethrin.

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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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