Top 5 Eczema Over-the-Counter Treatments

OTC medicines for eczema

Over-the-counter (OTC) eczema remedies are topical and oral medications you can buy without a prescription. You can find a range of OTC treatments that help with eczema symptoms such as itch, redness, irritation or rash. Other OTC treatments can help prevent flares and assist with sleep when night-time itch is keeping you awake.

Many OTC products are available in both brand-name or generic forms.

Things to consider with OTC products

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decides whether a medicine is safe enough to sell over the counter. However, using OTC medicines still has potential risks. Some interact with other prescription or OTC medicines, supplements, foods or beverages. Others cause problems for people with certain medical conditions. Be sure to talk to your dermatologist or healthcare provider before taking any OTC medicines for eczema.

It’s important to correctly follow directions for OTC medicines and be careful when administering them to children. You should never take OTC eczema drugs for longer durations or in higher doses than the product label recommends.

Top 5 most common OTC treatments for eczema

Eczema treatment can go beyond prescribed medication. There are many OTC products which can provide hydration and itch relief, stop some skin types from becoming scaly and prevent skin dryness. Check out these four OTC products and see how they might work with your eczema therapy and treatment plan.

#1: Lotions and moisturizers

Lotions and moisturizers not only provide relief for dry skin, they can help prevent or reduce a number of eczema symptoms. When looking for an eczema cream, consider products which were developed for eczema or with folks with this skin condition in mind. A bad lotion might make your skin more itchy while the right one can enhance your skin care for eczema routine.

When shopping lotions, moisturizers, ointments and creams, which ones are the right kind—and which ones are the wrong kind? In general you want to get body creams, hand cream, relief creams and body lotions that are anti-itch and contain eczema-friendly ingredients, such as:

  • aloe
  • parabens
  • glycerin
  • humectants
  • lanolin
  • mineral oil
  • vaseline
  • ceramides
  • petrolatum.

Some of the best eczema creams include lotions from Cerave, eucerin eczema relief cream, Vanicream products and Aveeno products. In general, look for hand creams and moisturizing creams with skin protectants that are good for itchy skin and eczema flare-ups. Even with these guidelines, it can be tricky to find the best healing ointment or moisturizer. Luckily you can start your search with the full list of products with the National Eczema Association’s Seal of Approval. You can also find soaps and other products for eczema relief on that list.

#2: Antihistamines and Pain Relievers

Atopic dermatitis (AD), the most common form of eczema is part of what’s known as the atopic triad (eczema, allergies and asthma). In fact, people with AD have a greater chance of developing comorbidities or related health conditions, namely asthma, hay fever and food allergies. 

To provide itch relief and curb inflammation if you have allergies or sensitive skin, a healthcare provider may suggest antihistamines. Some antihistamines also contain sedatives that can help people sleep.

Examples of OTC oral antihistamines include:

  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Siladryl, Unisom, Banophen, Sudafed)  
  • Chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton, Wal-Finate, Aller-Chlor)
  • Cetirizine (Zyrtec, Aller-Tec, Alleroff, Cetiri-D)
  • Loratadine (Claritin, Alavert, Wal-itin)
  • Fexofenadine (Allegra, Aller-ease, Aller-Fex, Wal-Fex Allergy)
  • Doxylamine (Unisom, Wal-Som, Ultra Sleep)

To address common eczema symptoms such as burning, pain and inflammation, a healthcare provider may also suggest OTC pain relievers such as: 

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs including ibuprofen.

#3: Topical Hydrocortisone 

Topical OTC hydrocortisone cream is a low potency steroid and works on eczema-prone skin by reducing irritation, itching and inflammation. OTC steroids come in many forms, including ointments, creams, lotions and gels. They are used for the temporary relief of itching and rashes caused by most types of eczema.

OTC hydrocortisone is usually applied one to four times a day for up to seven days. Follow the directions on the label carefully. Do not use OTC steroids more often or longer than recommended on the label or by your healthcare provider.

Even though it’s sold over the counter, hydrocortisone products may cause side effects including:

  • Dry or cracked skin
  • Acne
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Change in skin color.

#4: Topical Hydrocortisone

Topical OTC hydrocortisone cream is a low potency steroid and works on eczema-prone skin by reducing irritation, itching and inflammation. OTC steroids come in many forms, including ointments, creams, lotions and gels. They are used for the temporary relief of itching and rashes caused by most types of eczema.

OTC hydrocortisone is usually applied one to four times a day for up to seven days. Follow the directions on the label carefully. Do not use OTC steroids more often or longer than recommended on the label or by your healthcare provider.

Even though it’s sold over the counter, hydrocortisone products may cause side effects including:

  • Dry or cracked skin
  • Acne
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Change in skin color.

#5: Shampoos

Medicated OTC shampoos containing ingredients such as ketoconazole, selenium sulfide, coal tar and zinc pyrithione help with symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis on the scalp (also known as dandruff). Try to find fragrance-free and hypoallergenic options when possible.

The active ingredients in OTC dandruff shampoos typically work by helping lift the seborrheic dermatitis scale from the scalp and/or provide an anti-fungal treatment to combat the overgrowth of a type of yeast called Malassezia. Malassezia is thought to contribute to the development of seborrheic dermatitis. Shampoos containing colloidal oatmeal, hyaluronic acid, shea butter or non-greasy ingredients are a good choice as well.


Get the latest eczema news delivered to your inbox.