Over-the-counter (OTC) treatments can help prevent flare-ups and relieve symptoms of eczema, such as itching and irritation. OTC treatments include lotions and moisturizers, topical hydrocortisone cream, antihistamines, and pain relievers.

OTC treatments can be effective and reduce the need for prescription medications, which may have side effects.

This article looks at the different OTC treatments for eczema and what to do if they are ineffective.

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A 2022 article states that emollients combined with topical steroid creams to control inflammation are usually the first-line OTC treatments for eczema.

Using products that help the skin retain moisture is one of the best ways to manage eczema. Moisturizers and lotions can help protect the skin barrier, which may prevent dryness and itching.

Lotions and moisturizers are creams or ointments that help protect the skin barrier. They can help treat eczema by relieving symptoms such as dry and itchy skin. They may also help prevent flare-ups.

When buying a lotion, it is important to look for products that specifically state that they are developed for eczema. People can look for products that contain ingredients such as:

The National Eczema Association has created a product directory to help people find lotions and other products that are suitable for those with eczema.

How to use

A person with eczema can use moisturizers or lotions by:

  • applying any prescription topical medication first
  • applying moisturizer immediately after bathing or handwashing
  • using the hands to apply moisturizer in downward strokes
  • applying a thick layer to the body and leaving it to absorb into the skin

Topical hydrocortisone is a mild steroid cream, lotion, or gel. It can help relieve:

  • itching
  • inflammation
  • irritation
  • rashes

Learn more about hydrocortisone for eczema.

How to use

People may apply topical hydrocortisone one to four times each day for up to 7 days. It is important to follow any instructions on the product label.

Side effects and considerations

Possible side effects of topical hydrocortisone include:

  • dry or cracked skin
  • itching
  • burning
  • acne
  • skin color changes

It is important not to use topical hydrocortisone any longer than the instructions state.

Antihistamines are a class of drugs that help block histamine, a chemical that the immune system produces.

They may help relieve itching and reduce inflammation. Some antihistamines may also act as sedatives, which can help if eczema symptoms are interrupting a person’s sleep.

Examples of OTC antihistamines include:

  • chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton)
  • cetirizine (Zyrtec)
  • fexofenadine (Allegra)
  • doxylamine (Unisom)

How to use

People will need to follow any instructions on the product label. When taking antihistamines, people may need to take them with food or drink.

It may take several weeks of using antihistamines consistently to help relieve itching.

Side effects and considerations

In high doses, side effects of antihistamines may include drowsiness and rapid heart rate. Antihistamines with sedative qualities may have additional side effects, such as:

  • dizziness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • blurred vision
  • dry mouth
  • poor coordination
  • difficulty urinating

OTC pain relievers are drugs that may help ease painful eczema symptoms, such as burning and inflammation. These may include acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil).

How to use

OTC pain relievers come as pills and capsules. People may take 3 to 3.25 grams (g) of acetaminophen over 24 hours, but this may depend on the specific formulation.

People may take 1 or 2 tablets of 200-milligram (mg) ibuprofen every 4–6 hours. The upper limit for ibuprofen is 1,200 mg per day.

Side effects and considerations

Acetaminophen is generally safe at low doses. It is important to follow the product instructions and avoid taking more than necessary. Overdosing on acetaminophen may harm the liver.

Side effects of acetaminophen may include:

  • rash
  • anemia
  • electrolyte imbalance
  • increased uric acid levels
  • kidney damage

Side effects of ibuprofen may include:

Long-term use of ibuprofen may cause organ damage and increase the risk of heart attack.

If people do not notice a significant improvement in their symptoms or they do not tolerate OTC drugs, they may require more than an OTC treatment.

In these cases, a doctor may recommend prescription creams and ointments, such as pimecrolimus (Elidel) or tacrolimus (Protopic).

For severe eczema, people may need further medical treatments, such as:

The following are frequently asked questions about treating eczema.

Which OTC method is best for treating flare-ups?

Topical steroids may be the best OTC treatment for flare-ups. In most cases, short-term use of a topical steroid will control a flare-up.

Which OTC method can relieve itching quickly?

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a thick layer of moisturizing ointment, petroleum jelly, or colloidal oatmeal to provide quick relief for itching.

Which type of OTC treatment is best for eczema on the hands?

To treat hand eczema, people can use an oily ointment, such as petroleum jelly.

People should avoid moisturizers with high water content. This is because the water evaporates and dries out the skin.

Which type of OTC treatment is best for eczema on the face?

To treat facial eczema, people can use OTC topical steroids and emollients.

In many cases, OTC treatments can effectively relieve eczema symptoms and help prevent flare-ups.

OTC remedies include lotions, topical hydrocortisone creams, antihistamines, and pain relievers.

If OTC treatments are not improving symptoms, people can contact a doctor who may advise prescription medications.