Hydrocortisone FAQ

What are Topical Hydrocortisone Products?

Hydrocortisone is a steroid, which works by reducing redness, itching and inflammation. Hydrocortisone is chemically similar to cortisol, a hormone made by your body every day. Topical steroids come in many forms, including ointments, creams, lotions, gels, and tape.

Hydrocortisone is available with or without a prescription. Low-strength preparations (0.5% or 1%), available without a prescription, are used for the temporary relief of itching and rashes caused by eczema among other skin irritations. Generally it is only appropriate for the most mild form of eczema.

Topical steroids have been used extensively for over 50 years to treat various inflammatory skin conditions and when used correctly, they do a great job and are relatively safe. This Seal of Acceptance category reviews only Over The Counter (OTC) products available without a prescription.

Who Should Use Over-the-Counter (OTC) Hydrocortisone Products?

Topical hydrocortisone products are only indicated for the temporary relief of external itching associated with minor skin irritations, inflammation and rashes due to poison ivy, oak, sumac, insect bites, detergents, cosmetics, jewelry, soaps, seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis.

Who Should Avoid Over-the-Counter (OTC) Hydrocortisone Products?

Topical hydrocortisone products should not be used on anyone under the age of 2 years. They should not be used in or near the eyes. Pregnant patients and those who are breast-feeding should not use it unless advised to do so by their physician.

Negative Reactions to Topical Hydrocortisone Products

While hydrocortisone is useful for treating various types of dermatitis (inflamed skin), it can also cause an allergic reaction upon contact (contact dermatitis). Contact dermatitis is a term for a skin reaction (dermatitis) resulting from exposure to allergens (allergic contact dermatitis) or irritants (irritant contact dermatitis).

Clues to a hydrocortisone-induced contact dermatitis include a skin reaction upon application or a change in the appearance or pattern of the lesions. Should you experience either of these symptoms after applying hydrocortisone, contact your physician immediately.

How Should Hydrocortisone Be Used?

Hydrocortisone is usually applied one to four times a day.

Follow the directions on the label carefully, and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part that you do not understand. Use hydrocortisone exactly as directed. Do not use more or less of it or use it more often than prescribed by your doctor or as indicated on the label.

If the condition worsens or lasts longer than 7 days, you should stop use and consult a physician. If the condition clears up but returns a few days later, consult a physician. This may be an indication of a more severe form of eczema known as atopic dermatitis.

How Long Can I Use an OTC Hydrocortisone Product?

Hydrocortisone can be used for up to 7 days. Stop use and ask a doctor if condition worsens, symptoms persist for more than 7 days or clear up and occur again within a few days, and do not begin use of any other hydrocortisone product unless you have consulted a doctor.

On What Parts of My Body Can I Use Hydrocortisone Products?

Hydrocortisone products are safe to apply to most body parts. Avoid contact with eyes, rectum or genital area if you have a vaginal discharge. Do not use for the treatment of diaper rash.
Some common skin conditions affecting the face can be caused or made worse by hydrocortisone, for example, impetigo, rosacea and acne.

What Special Precautions Should I Follow?

  • Before using hydrocortisone
    • tell your doctor and pharmacist if you are allergic to hydrocortisone or any other drugs.
    • tell your doctor and pharmacist what prescription and nonprescription medications you are taking, especially cancer chemotherapy agents, other topical medications, and vitamins.
    • tell your doctor if you have an infection or have ever had diabetes, glaucoma, a circulation disorder, or an immune disorder.
    • tell your doctor if you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or are breast-feeding. If you become pregnant while using hydrocortisone, call your doctor immediately.
    • remember not to use hydrocortisone on children less than 2 years of age without talking to a doctor.


What Side Effects Can Hydrocortisone Cause?

  • Hydrocortisone may cause side effects. Tell your doctor if any of these symptoms are severe or do not go away:
  • drying or cracking of the skin
  • acne
  • itching
  • burning
  • change in skin color


If you experience any of the following symptoms, call your doctor immediately:

  • severe skin rash
  • difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • wheezing
  • skin infection (redness, swelling, or oozing of pus)