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Calamine lotion is a topical medication that people use to treat itchy skin, sometimes called pruritus.

Calamine lotion contains the active ingredient zinc oxide that has both mild antiseptic and pore tightening, or astringent, properties. It may help treat acne.

This article discusses whether calamine lotion is an effective and safe treatment for acne.

We also list the ingredients of calamine lotion and outlines some precautions to take when using the product.

a woman squeezing calamine lotion from a bottle onto her hand that she is going to use for treating acneShare on Pinterest
The zinc oxide in calamine lotion may help treat acne.

Acne occurs when dead skin cells and excess oil, or sebum, accumulates inside pores, trapping bacteria deep in the skin. The trapped bacteria cause inflammation, leading to pimples.

Calamine lotion has several properties that might help to alleviate acne. These include:

  • Mild antiseptic properties: Antiseptics are substances that help to prevent the growth of bacteria and other pathogens. Calamine’s mild antiseptic properties suggest it could help slow the growth of the bacteria that cause acne. However, there is no research to confirm this.
  • Mild astringent properties: Astringents are chemicals that shrink and tighten body tissues, such as pores. Shrinking the pores could help to prevent the buildup of skin debris and excess sebum.
  • Anti-inflammatory properties: The World Health Organization (WHO) list calamine lotion as an anti-inflammatory and anti-itch, or antipruritic, medicine. Calamine’s anti-inflammatory properties may help to alleviate inflammation that people associate with acne.

However, the astringent chemicals in calamine lotion can irritate the skin, causing dryness.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), dry skin can make acne appear worse. The AAD recommend avoiding the use of astringents when treating acne.

Possible side effects of calamine lotion include localized skin irritation and allergic reactions.

People who develop localized skin irritation may notice a red, itchy skin rash at the site of application.

Allergic reactions can be more widespread and severe. Anyone who experiences a severe allergic reaction should phone 911 for immediate medical assistance.

The signs of a severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, include:

According to older research, calamine lotion can be appropriate to use during pregnancy. People have used calamine lotion for many decades, and there is also no evidence to indicate it is not safe.

Nonetheless, it is good practice to speak to a doctor or other healthcare provider before using calamine or any medications during pregnancy.

Calamine lotion is safe for use on children aged 2 years or above. People should contact a doctor before using calamine lotion on a child who is less than 6 months of age.

When treating children, parents and caregivers should be careful to avoid getting any product in the child’s mouth, eyes, or nose.

People should follow the directions and precautions below when using calamine lotion on themselves or others:

Directions

  1. Wash the affected area with soap and water, then dry thoroughly.
  2. Shake the calamine lotion bottle before use to thoroughly mix the ingredients.
  3. Pour the lotion onto a cotton wool pad, then apply the pad directly to the skin.
  4. Rub the lotion in gently.
  5. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  6. Repeat three to four times a day.
  7. Store calamine lotion at room temperature when not in use.

A person should speak to their doctor if the skin does not improve after using calamine lotion for 7 days.

Precautions

People should only use calamine lotion on the skin. If the product gets into the eyes, mouth, or nose, they should use water to wash it out straightaway.

Swallowing a mouthful or more of calamine lotion can lead to an upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea. These symptoms tend to be mild and go away on their own.

Calamine lotion will leave a thin film on the skin, which can stain fabrics it touches.

The active ingredient in calamine lotion is zinc oxide.

Calamine lotion also contains a number of inactive ingredients. The type and quantity of inactive ingredients may vary between brands. However, they include:

  • purified water
  • bentonite magma
  • calcium hydroxide
  • glycerin

While there is little evidence to support the use of calamine for acne, it is useful for a range of other skin conditions. Some examples are below.

Plant oil reactions

Certain oils from plant materials can cause irritation if they come into contact with the skin. Examples include:

Applying calamine lotion can help to ease itching, blistering, and other forms of skin irritation.

Chickenpox

Chickenpox is a disease that the highly contagious varicella zoster virus causes.

The characteristic symptom of chickenpox is a rash that develops into itchy blisters. The rash first develops on the chest, back, and face before spreading across the entire body.

Applying calamine lotion to the rash can help to alleviate itching.

Heat rash

Heat rash is a type of skin irritation that typically occurs in hot, humid weather.

The following symptoms characterized a heat rash:

  • patches of small, red spots
  • an itchy or prickly feeling on the skin
  • redness and mild swelling

Heat rash typically develops in places where sweat collects, such as:

  • the armpits
  • the back
  • underneath the breasts
  • the groin
  • the crooks of the knees and elbows

Applying calamine lotion to heat rash can help to alleviate uncomfortable itching and prickling sensations.

Calamine lotion has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties that may help to alleviate some symptoms of acne.

However, calamine lotion is also an astringent. Dermatologists recommend avoiding astringents when treating acne, as these chemicals can dry the skin, making acne worse.

Calamine lotion is more effective for skin conditions that cause itching, such as plant oil reactions, chickenpox, and heat rashes.

Calamine lotion is usually safe when applied to the skin. However, there is no evidence that it will help to alleviate acne. A person who wishes to treat their acne should talk to a doctor or dermatologist for advice on appropriate treatments.

If someone wishes to try using calamine lotion to relieve acne symptoms, they can buy it in stores and online.