What are the most effective eczema creams?
Lotions, creams, and moisturizers can help heal eczema (atopic dermatitis) by reducing inflammation, hydrating dry skin, and restoring the skin’s protective barrier.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, eczema affects around 1 in 10 people in the United States. It’s more common in African American and Asian American children.
Different creams work better for different people. Certain creams are better for specific body parts, such as hand or facial eczema.
When choosing an eczema cream, select products specifically designed for people with eczema. You might want to avoid creams with fragrances, as these can irritate your skin further.
This article discusses the most effective creams or medications used to treat eczema.
Over-the-counter (OTC) moisturizers are a great and readily available way to get instant relief from itching and dryness caused by eczema.
Look out for moisturizers, lotions, and creams that have the National Eczema Society’s Seal of Acceptance. Approved brands include:
Some brands might not work for your skin, and some might even make you feel more itchy or uncomfortable for a short time. Consider trying a few options until you find the one that’s right for you.
The National Eczema Society suggests choosing creams that contain eczema-friendly ingredients, such as:
- aloe vera
Topical corticosteroids can reduce inflammation, swelling, and itching. They also reduce S. aureus bacteria on the skin to prevent skin infections.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), corticosteroids have been used to treat eczema for over 60 years and are the number one treatment for eczema in adults and children.
Mild forms of topical corticosteroids are available OTC, including hydrocortisone. Stronger forms are available by prescription.
They come in creams, lotions, sprays, and ointments without a prescription. So it’s important to use them as instructed. Using too many steroids can lead to side effects like skin thinning and discoloration.
Prescription eczema creams
If OTC options aren’t having the desired effect, prescription eczema creams can often help relieve your symptoms. Common prescription creams for eczema include:
While mild corticosteroids are available OTC, these may not work for everyone. When mild options aren’t having the desired effect, you might consider trying more potent corticosteroids through prescription.
Corticosteroids range in strength from low to ultra-high potency. Examples include:
- low potency: hydrocortisone and prednisolone
- moderate potency: prednicarbate, methylprednisolone, triamcinolone
- high potency: betamethasone and mometasone
- ultra-high potency: clobetasol
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Topical calcineurin inhibitor (TCI) creams prevent the immune system from reacting, which reduces itching and inflammation. They are suitable for eczema on all areas of the skin, including delicate regions such as the face, eyelids, and genitals.
TCI creams are considered safe for long-term use. Possible side effects include mild burning or stinging on the skin when applying the cream.
The two TCI creams used for eczema are:
- pimecrolimus cream (Elidel) for mild to moderate eczema
- tacrolimus ointment (Protopic) for moderate to severe eczema
Crisaborole (Eucrisa) is a newer topical treatment known as a phosphodiesterase inhibitor.
This type of medication works by blocking an enzyme involved in inflammation, called phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4).
This medication has Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for treating eczema in adults and children ages 3 months and older. It is safe for long-term use and people can use it on delicate skin, including the face, eyelids, and genitals.
Crisaborole is an ointment rather than a cream. Ointments provide a thick, protective layer on the skin to keep it hydrated. They contain less water than creams and are less easy to apply.
The most common side effect is burning or stinging skin, which usually gets resolved as you continue using the ointment.
Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors
Ruxolitinib (Opzelura) cream is the only topical JAK inhibitor approved by the FDA for eczema. JAK inhibitors work by interrupting body systems that cause inflammation.
You can use this cream continuously for 8 weeks or longer if you use it occasionally.
Eczema cream for adults and babies
Children are more sensitive to some medications than adults, including corticosteroids. Before using an eczema cream on a child or infant, it’s important to check that it is suitable for their age group and only use them when advised by a doctor.
Other eczema treatments
People with eczema often have allergies, including seasonal allergies, food allergies, and contact allergies. Taking antihistamines can reduce your body’s histamine response, leading to less inflammation and less itching.
Antihistamines are oral tablets. Examples of OTC options include:
- diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Sudafed)
- cetirizine (Zyrtec, Aller-Tec)
- fexofenadine (Allegra, Aller-Fex)
- loratadine (Claritin, Alavert)
Other treatments for eczema include:
- Avoiding triggers: Common irritants include some skin care products, wool clothing, fragrances, and laundry detergents.
- Light therapy: This safe, effective treatment involves 2–3 phototherapy treatments per week for a few weeks or months.
- Systemic treatments: People with severe eczema might try medications that work throughout the body. Options include:
- dupilumab (Dupixent), an injectable biologic for adults and children that reduces inflammation without suppressing the immune system
- abrocitinib (Cibinqo) and upadacitinib (Rinvoq), which are oral JAK inhibitor tablets that reduce inflammation throughout the body
- tralokinumab-idrm (Adbry), an injectable biologic for adults with severe eczema
Various creams and moisturizers can provide eczema relief, helping to soothe dry, itchy, and inflamed skin.
If you’re looking for OTC creams, check the ingredients for eczema-friendly ingredients, such as aloe vera, parabens, and ceramides. You can also check whether the products have the National Eczema Society’s Seal of Approval.
When OTC creams aren’t having the desired effect, you might try prescription eczema medication. Prescription creams are often more potent. Options include calcineurin inhibitors, JAK inhibitors, and stronger corticosteroids.
The best type of eczema cream for you will depend on your skin type and the location of your eczema. Consider talking with your doctor about what eczema creams and other treatments might work best for you.
If you need help covering the cost of medications, Optum Perks’ free Discount Card could help you get up to 80% off prescription medication.
- Eczema treatment: Corticosteroids applied to the skin. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/eczema/childhood/treating/corticosteroids-applied-to-skin
- Eczema types: Atopic dermatitis overview. (2022). https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/eczema/types/atopic-dermatitis
- FAQ — Eucrisa (Crisaborole). https://nationaleczema.org/crisaborole-faq/
- JAK inhibitors: What your dermatologist wants you to know. (2023). https://nationaleczema.org/crisaborole-faq/
- National Eczema Seal of Acceptance. https://nationaleczema.org/eczema-products/seal-home/
- Over-the-counter treatments for eczema. https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/treatment/over-the-counter/