Calamine lotion can help relieve the itching, stinging, and burning sensations that often occur with minor skin conditions. Its uses include treating sunburn, acne, and insect bites.
In this article, we discuss the main uses of calamine lotion, how to use it, and the possible side effects.
Calamine contains both zinc oxide and ferric oxide. These active ingredients give calamine lotion its medicinal properties.
People typically use calamine lotion to treat minor skin conditions that result in itchiness or weeping. It is available over-the-counter (OTC) as a lotion or cream.
People may use calamine lotion to relieve the symptoms of various skin-related issues. We look at some of its key uses below.
Sunburn occurs when UV radiation penetrates the skin, resulting in skin damage. It causes symptoms such as:
- skin peeling
Calamine lotion can help relieve the itching and peeling associated with sunburn. The water content in calamine lotion may also provide a cooling sensation as it evaporates.
While calamine lotion may relieve sunburn symptoms, it is important to note that any sunburn can cause long-term skin damage and speed up skin aging. It also increases a person’s risk of skin cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommend preventing sunburn wherever possible by:
- staying in shaded areas when outside, especially during peak sunlight hours
- covering exposed arms and legs with appropriate clothing
- wearing a hat and sunglasses to block UV rays
- applying broad-spectrum sunscreen every few hours
Acne is a skin condition that occurs when tiny holes in the skin, called pores, become blocked by sebum or dead skin cells. Sebum is the oily substance that the skin produces to keep itself hydrated.
Many people use calamine lotion to reduce the size of acne lesions. Calamine lotion is an astringent, which means that it can shrink body tissues, such as the skin.
However, as a result of this property, calamine lotion can also cause the skin to become dry or irritated. This effect can make acne more visible, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. As a result, it is best to use it sparingly.
Insect bites and stings
Calamine lotion is a popular remedy for mild insect bites and stings. It can ease symptoms such as:
However, it is important to note that calamine lotion is not a sufficient treatment for bites and stings that are severe or venomous or could lead to disease. For example, calamine lotion will not prevent a person from contracting Lyme disease after a tick bite.
It is, therefore, important to seek medical advice about any insect bite that could come from a venomous or disease-carrying species.
Some people are allergic to the bites and stings of certain insects, such as bee stings. Emergency help is necessary if a person develops the following symptoms after a bite or sting:
- severe itching and hives
- swollen airways
- difficulty breathing
- stomach cramps
- loss of consciousness
Chickenpox is a disease that occurs due to the varicella-zoster virus. It causes itchy blisters to appear, which can spread across the entire body. Other symptoms of chickenpox include:
These symptoms typically appear before the rash. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend using calamine lotion to treat any itchiness. They also note that it is important to avoid scratching, as this can increase the chances of bacterial infection and the transmission of the virus to others. Keeping the fingernails trimmed can help minimize scratching.
People can also try bathing in cool water with some added baking soda, uncooked oatmeal, or colloidal oatmeal. Acetaminophen (Tylenol), which is available OTC, is an option to help reduce pain and fever.
In adults, the varicella-zoster virus can cause shingles, for which people can also use calamine lotion to relieve itching.
People can also use calamine lotion for:
Calamine lotion has few side effects when people use it safely. However, it can cause dry skin or skin irritation.
If a person experiences these symptoms, they should stop or reduce their use of calamine lotion. If the symptoms become severe or do not resolve after a person stops using calamine lotion, they should speak with a doctor.
Calamine lotion is simple to use, and people can follow the guidelines below.
For general use
To use calamine lotion for mild rashes, itchiness, and sunburn:
- Make sure that the affected area is clean and dry.
- Shake the bottle of calamine lotion to mix the ingredients.
- Gently apply the lotion to the skin, avoiding the eyes, mouth, nose, genitals, and anal area.
- Wash the hands thoroughly.
- After use, wash any clothing that has come into contact with the lotion to avoid buildup and staining.
For acne, bites, and stings
People who wish to use calamine lotion on small bites, stings, or acne lesions can apply a small amount of the lotion to a cotton wool pad and press it against the affected area. They should rub the lotion in gently before washing the hands.
Again, it is important to avoid mucous membranes and areas of skin that are fragile, such as the mouth and genitals.
A person with acne can apply calamine lotion before going to bed so that it works during sleep to shrink spots. However, people with sensitive skin may wish to avoid doing this, as it may be too drying.
Although calamine lotion is effective as a short-term solution for itching and inflammation, it will not treat the underlying causes of recurring acne. If acne is a persistent problem, a person may wish to consider making an appointment with a dermatologist to discuss treatment options.
Calamine lotion is not suitable for people who:
- are allergic to any of the active or inactive ingredients
- experience side effects while using it
- have an upcoming X-ray, as the lotion can affect the results
- are under the age of 6 months
In some cases, it may be possible to use calamine lotion on young infants, but it is important to speak with a doctor first.
Similarly, although there are no known risks of using calamine lotion during pregnancy, it is best to consult a doctor first.
People should not use calamine lotion near smoke or a fire, as it contains ingredients that make it flammable. A person may be more at risk of severe burns if they use calamine around an open flame.
If a person gets calamine lotion in their eyes, mouth, or nose, they need to wash it out straight away and avoid swallowing it. It is essential to store the lotion out of the reach of children.
A person should speak with a doctor if:
- the symptoms do not improve after 7 days of using calamine lotion
- the symptoms get worse after using calamine lotion
- the symptoms improve, but then a person develops signs of infection, such as pus and swelling
- the initial rash or skin condition keeps coming back
Immediate medical attention is necessary if someone has a severe allergic reaction while using calamine lotion. This reaction causes swollen airways and difficulty breathing, which can be life threatening without treatment.
If someone ingests calamine lotion — particularly if a child does so or a person swallows a large amount — it is important to contact a poison control center immediately.
Calamine lotion is an effective treatment for the itching and inflammation that can occur with minor skin conditions, such as acne, sunburn, and certain rashes. It can relieve these symptoms and has minimal side effects.
However, calamine lotion does not treat the underlying cause of recurring conditions, such as acne. It also cannot treat severe or venomous bites and stings. If the symptoms of a skin-related issue do not improve after using calamine lotion, it is advisable to speak with a doctor.