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Anti-itch creams are available in several different varieties, and they use different medications or active ingredients to control itching. Choosing the best anti-itch cream involves finding a product that works for your symptoms without causing too many undesirable side effects. Your doctor may also be able to help you find an effective topical product for itching from chronic conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis.
Antihistamines prevent and control allergic reactions to substances called histamines that can cause itching, redness, and swelling. An anti-itch cream that contains an antihistamine can help control itching from allergies and irritants. These creams are for short-term use of two to three days at a time, as using them for longer could result in future allergic reactions to antihistamines. People using an antihistamine cream should not take oral antihistamines at the same time, as this can result in an overdose.
An anti-itch cream that contains a topical anesthetic can help relieve itching from minor scratches and contact with irritating substances, such as insect venom, poison oak, or poison ivy. These creams work by dulling nerve endings in the skin. Topical anesthetics are available in different strengths, but they should not generally be used in children under two years old.
Topical corticosteroids are common active ingredients in anti-itch creams. They help control local itching and are often used for chronic conditions. An anti-itch cream that contains a corticosteroid works by preventing inflammation from an irritating substance that can lead to itching. Like other active ingredients, corticosteroids are available in varying strengths. The mildest form of anti-itch cream that is effective should be used to prevent side effects, such as stretch marks and skin thinning.
It’s important to be aware of the potential for side effects and allergic reactions when choosing an anti-itch cream. Topical medications are still medications, so using them exactly as directed can help minimize the risk of side effects or serious reactions from an overdose of the medication. Common side effects include burning and redness of the skin. Usually, discontinuing use of an anti-itch cream is enough to stop side effects, but occasionally an allergic reaction to a medication that causes difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or mouth, dizziness, or a severe rash or hives requires emergency medical attention.
Tell your healthcare provider about any other medications you take before selecting an anti-itch cream. Some medications may interfere with the active ingredients in these creams. Some creams are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to use, but creams that contain corticosteroids should be avoided to prevent birth defects. Don’t use topical products on any area of broken skin and see a doctor for any areas that are weeping or appear infected.