Over the Counter
OTC medicines for eczema
Eczema remedies that are over the counter (OTC) are medications you can buy without a prescription. You can find a range of treatments over the counter that help with eczema symptoms such as itch, redness and rash. Other treatments over the counter can help prevent flares and assist with sleep when night-time itch is keeping you awake.
The Food and Drug Administration decides whether a medicine is safe enough to sell over the counter. However, taking OTC medicines still has risks. Some interact with other medicines, supplements, foods or drinks. Others cause problems for people with certain medical conditions. If you’re pregnant, talk to your health care provider before taking any OTC medicines for eczema.
Things to consider with OTC products
It’s important to take OTC medicines correctly and be careful when giving them to children. More does not necessarily mean better. You should never take eczema drugs that are over the counter longer or in higher doses than the product label recommends.
If you experience any of the following symptoms while using an OTC treatment for eczema, discontinue the product and call your health care provider right away:
- Severe skin redness, swelling and rash
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
Before using OTC medications for eczema be sure to talk with your doctor if you:
- Are allergic to the active ingredients in the OTC product or any other drugs
- Have an infection, diabetes, glaucoma, circulation problems, or an immune disorder
- Are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or are breast-feeding
- Are taking any other supplements, herbs or prescription medications, which may interact with the OTC medication
And remember: if your eczema symptoms don’t go away, it’s a clear signal that it’s time to see your health care provider to discuss your treatment options.
If you are looking for an OTC treatment for eczema symptoms, start with the NEA Seal of Acceptance directory. Here you will find products that are specially formulated for people with eczema and sensitive skin.
Some common OTC treatments for eczema include:
Topical OTC hydrocortisone is a milder steroid and works on the skin by reducing redness, itching and inflammation. OTC steroids come in many forms, including ointments, creams, lotions, gels and tape. 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 and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part that you do not understand. Do not use OTC steroids more often or longer than recommended on the label or by your doctor.
Hydrocortisone products are safe to apply to most body parts. Avoid contact with eyes, rectum or genital area. Do not use for the treatment of diaper rash.
Talk to your health care provider before using OTC hydrocortisone on children younger than 2 years of age.
If your symptoms worsen or lasts longer than seven days or if they return after clearing up, you should stop using the OTC hydrocortisone and call your doctor.
Even though it’s sold over the counter, hydrocortisone products may cause side effects. Tell your doctor if any of these symptoms are severe or do not go away:
- Dry or cracked skin
- Change in skin color
See the OTC hydrocortisone products that received the NEA Seal of Acceptance.
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).
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.
There are many varieties of over-the-counter moisturizers that help with the symptoms of eczema and curb the number and severity of flares. People with eczema tend to have very dry skin due to issues with the skin barrier. So using emollients to keep the skin moist is key to controlling eczema.
There are three types of moisturizers:
- Ointments are semi-solid greases that help to hydrate the skin by preventing water loss.
- Creams are thick mixtures of greases in water or another liquid. They contain a lower proportion of grease than ointments.
- Lotions are mixtures of oil and water, with water being the main ingredient.
Learn more about moisturizers that received the NEA Seal of Acceptance.
Coal tar, a byproduct of coal production, has been used for decades to treat psoriasis and eczema. Coal tar over the counter comes in various formulations including soaps, creams, ointments and gels. Coal tar works by reducing the rate of skin cell growth and softening the uppermost layer of skin, which allows for removal of scales and helps the skin retain moisture.