Whether you have itchy, irritated skin from an allergic reaction, skin sensitivity, or pesky bug bite, one thing is for sure: You want relief ASAP. You may try quelling the discomfort with an ice pack, but when that doesn't cut it, you may need to turn to an anti-itch cream for help.
Before running to your local pharmacy, you should get to know what may be behind your skin itch because you may need a different treatment depending on the cause. You probably know that summertime itchy skin is commonly due to mosquito bites, or potentially from poison ivy or other rashes after spending extended time outdoors.
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Itchy skin may also be caused by skin barrier disruption, skin dryness, a genetic predisposition, or inflammatory conditions like eczema, according to Joshua Zeichner, MD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research and an associate professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Collectively, they lead to an increase in inflammatory signals in the skin that drive the itch response,” he explains.
While anti-itch creams can be a temporary lifesaver, if you’re not seeing improvements within two weeks, Dr. Zeichner recommends visiting a dermatologist.
Here are 12 dermatologist-approved anti-itch creams. Because let’s be honest, itchy skin is a nightmare.
Anti-itch creams can help reduce itching from conditions such as mosquito bites or poison ivy or other rashes, according to Rajani Katta, MD, a dermatologist who serves as voluntary clinical faculty of both the Baylor College of Medicine and the McGovern Medical School at University of Texas Houston.
“These creams use several different types of active ingredients, and choosing between them means knowing how they work so you can opt for the right ingredient for the right purpose,” she says. “It's also important to remember that chronic itchy skin may be due to dry skin, and that moisturizing creams may help.”
Not all anti-itch creams are alike. When browsing the aisles, you'll find five main types.
- Hydrocortisone. One major ingredient found in anti-itch creams is hydrocortisone, which fights skin inflammation. The products sold over the counter have a low concentration of hydrocortisone, which is a topical steroid. “Applied to the skin, hydrocortisone helps reduce redness, itching, and the other symptoms of skin inflammation,” Dr. Katta explains. However, topical steroids can produce side effects, and they're meant for short-term use only. If you’re using it for more than two weeks and not seeing improvement, she recommends talking to your dermatologist.
- Topical anesthetics. Another major category of ingredients is topical anesthetics. These products don’t actually reduce any skin inflammation. Rather, the ingredients numb the skin so you don’t feel the itch anymore. Examples include pramoxine, benzocaine, and lanacaine.
- Topical antihistamines. You’re likely familiar with this if you have allergies. “These battle the effects of histamine, a chemical produced by the body that can cause itching,” Dr. Katta explains. One example would be diphenhydramine (Benadryl).
- Cooling creams. One way to quell skin irritation? Cool it down. "Menthol/phenol creams provide a cooling effect on the skin that helps combat the sensation of itching," says Dr. Katta.
- Oatmeal. Lastly, another ingredient that can help is colloidal oatmeal, which exerts soothing qualities for irritated skin.