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What are the most effective eczema medications?

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Topical creamsTabletsInjectablesSummary
Eczema medications come as creams, ointments, injectables, and tablets. Newer medications work with the immune system to provide relief.
Medically reviewed by Alisha D. Sellers, BS Pharmacy, PharmD
Written by Cathy Lovering
Updated on February 28, 2023

People with eczema have many medication options to relieve symptoms of dry, itchy skin. Topical corticosteroids, coal tar, cyclosporine, and methotrexate are important tools for many people managing eczema.

Newer medications like janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors, biologics, and topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs) work at the cellular level and target the immune system to provide new opportunities for relief from eczema flares.

Some treatments allow people to target eczema on specific body parts, such as hand or facial eczema. 

Topical creams and ointments

A person putting on hand cream for eczema
Catherine Falls/Getty Images

Medications applied directly to the skin, known as topical medications, are the main eczema treatment for many people. They work to directly relieve dryness and inflammation in the affected areas of the skin.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroid creams are the most common medication for treating eczema. These creams reduce inflammation, itching, and bacteria on the skin.

This medication comes in different potencies, ranging from “less” to “super” potent. You can get them as ointments, lotions, creams, and sprays.

The most common corticosteroid for eczema is hydrocortisone. It comes under different brand names.

Corticosteroid creams are most effective alongside healing baths and an eczema-friendly moisturizer.

Most people are advised to use this treatment in the short term and at the correct potency for treating eczema flares. Long-term use can thin the skin, leading to fragile skin with less elasticity.

Corticosteroids are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for children and adults. That said, children are more sensitive to corticosteroids than adults, so it’s important to give this medication to children only with approval from a doctor.

Topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs)

TCIs block the action of calcineurin, an enzyme that contributes to eczema flares and inflammation. This medication reduces inflammation, itching, and bacteria on the skin.

There are two TCIs for eczema:

TCIs are sometimes used after a topical corticosteroid no longer works. They don’t cause thinning skin, which is a possible side effect of a corticosteroid. 

TCIs should be put only on areas of skin with eczema. A doctor may tell you to apply a TCI instead of a corticosteroid to eczema around the eyes, as it does not have the side effects of corticosteroids. 

Crisaborole ointment

Crisaborole ointment (Eucrisa) also targets an enzyme involved in inflammation, specifically phosphodiesterase type 4 (PDE4). This is another option if you can’t use corticosteroids. 

Eucrisa is only for treating mild to moderate eczema. It’s FDA approved for children as young as 3 months.

The most common side effect of crisaborole ointment is burning or stinging when applied. You can use it along with a moisturizer. Many people apply it right after getting out of the bath. Try to wait for 15 minutes after using Eucrisa to apply moisturizer.

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Ruxolitinib cream

Ruxolitinib cream (Opzelura) is in a class of drugs called JAK inhibitors. These medications work on the immune system at the molecular level. They stop signals between cells that are involved in the inflammatory process. 

You can use ruxolitinib cream if you have mild to moderate eczema. It can reduce itch and help clear your skin. You apply the medication every day for up to 8 weeks

Opzelura is FDA approved for people ages 12 and older

Oral medication: Tablets

Tablets are taken by mouth. Two newer oral medications for eczema are both JAK inhibitors.

Both of these medications, abrocitinib (Cibinqo) and upadacitinib (Rinvoq), are for moderate to severe eczema. You take either drug as a tablet once a day.

A 2021 review compared the side effects of the two medications as reported in clinical trials. Both drugs caused colds and upper respiratory infections in some study participants. 

Abrocitinib was associated with headache and nausea, while upadacitinib was sometimes associated with acne.

If you need help covering the cost of eczema medications, Optum Perks free Discount Card could help you save up to 80% on prescription drugs. Follow the links on drug names for savings on that medication, or search for a specific drug here.

Injectable biologics

Biologic medications are taken by injection. Like JAK inhibitors, they target specific molecules. However, the mechanism of biologics is more precise.

Unlike JAK inhibitors, biologics do not come in a pill or tablet format. You may be trained on how to give yourself the injections at home or see a doctor to receive a dose. 

There two biologics are FDA approved for moderate to severe eczema:

  • dupilumab (Dupixent)
  • tralokinumab-ldrm (Adbry)

Dupilumab

Dupixent is for those 6 months of age and older who have not been able to control eczema with topical medications. Common side effects are red and itchy eyes, cold sores, and reaction at the injection site. 

Tralokinumab-ldrm

Adbry is not approved for use in children and young people. It’s for adults for whom topical treatments haven’t improved eczema symptoms. A doctor may prescribe this medication along with a corticosteroid for faster results.

According to a 2021 academic review, in clinical trials, both Dupixent and Adbry resulted in symptom improvement after 16 weeks of use.

Summary

Topical medications, injectable biologics, and oral tablets are three types of drugs used to treat eczema.

Some of these medications have fewer side effects than older medications like corticosteroids but may also be used along with traditional treatments.

Advances in medicine have led to new options for reducing symptoms of eczema in children and adults. 

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