Anti-itch cream comes in numerous types. Some of these are available by prescription only and are usually have stronger ingredients than over the counter forms. Others have natural ingredients, which may be preferred by some people. The majority of over the counter anti-itch cream types contain one of three active types of ingredients: antihistamine, benzocaine, or topical steroids.
Products containing antihistamines usually have diphenhydramine, known by the commercial name Benadryl®. For allergic itching, especially to things like bug bites or poison oak rashes, diphenhydramine may be an appropriate cream. It may not totally work on other types of itching, such as that due to dry skin and some doctors caution that it shouldn’t be used if an oral antihistamine is taken at the same time. This could result in overdose of an antihistamine. Some people are also sensitive to diphenhydramine or become sensitized to it if they overuse it.
An anti-itch cream with benzocaine tends to make skin numb, but in some cases it can irritate itchy skin. It may work in limited use but isn’t recommended for long-term use. Sometimes benzocaine is combined with other ingredients like a topical steroid to reduce inflammation and to address immediate pain at the same time. Such products may boast that they are anti-itch and pain-relieving. Itches caused by mild burns may be effectively treated for a short time with benzocaine because of its pain-relieving component.
Doctors tend to recommend topical steroids like hydrocortisone for most minor problems with skin itching. They are absorbed in the skin and generally aren't used over large areas of the body. However, they do help address inflammation of the skin, which can aggravate skin itching, and they may be quite effective for localized itching. Follow guidelines on any anti-itching cream that contains a topical steroid, and consult a physician if questions exist about use for longer periods of time or over large areas of skin.
Many turn to natural products available in some anti-itch cream or lotions. Oatmeal has anti-itching properties and because it doesn’t pose health risks in most cases, it can be a good choice to treat things like chicken pox, or large rashes from poison oak and poison ivy. Aloe vera has some anti-itch properties too. Another common anti-itch cream ingredient is calamine, a mix of zinc and iron.
When looking for a natural cream, verify by reading labels that those with natural ingredients don’t have the more chemically produced ingredients too. Some anti-itch cream manufactures place aloe vera in topical steroid or benzocaine ointments. Calamine lotion is often combined with diphenhydramine in products like Caladryl®.
Long standing itching can result from many conditions and it may be best to consult a doctor about itching that is problematic, especially if cause can’t be easily identified. Sometimes people need prescription strength anti-itch cream instead, and others, like those with contact dermatitis, might require oral medications to end itching. If itching seems unresolved by over the counter creams, check with a doctor, preferably a dermatologist, to find out what other treatments are advised or available.