Over the Counter

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 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.

Some common OTC treatments for eczema include:

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 help combat itch and curb inflammation if you have allergies, 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 

(Motrin, Advil) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)

Topical Hydrocortisone 

Topical OTC hydrocortisone is a low potency steroid and works on the 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

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).

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.