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Ask the Experts

Hydrocortisone Cream for Rashes

by Berkeley Wellness  

Q: Is hydrocortisone cream a good choice for treating a rash?

A: It can be. Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid drug that has anti-inflammatory effects. Hydrocortisone cream, ointment, or lotion has long been used to treat many skin conditions characterized by itching and rashes. The strongest formulation you can buy over the counter is 1%. Higher concentrations are available by prescription.

Some skin conditions such as contact dermatitis, mild poison ivy or oak, allergies, and insect bites respond well to hydrocortisone. But skin disorders are hard to diagnose. If you’re sure that you have a mosquito bite or an allergic rash, for instance, then hydrocortisone is worth trying. If you’re not sure, get medical advice. Don’t use hydrocortisone on cuts, burns, acne, athlete’s foot, ringworm, cold sores, or a bacterial infection—it may make matters worse. Also, while psoriasis tends to get better with hydrocortisone, it usually rebounds.

Although most labels say to use the hydrocortisone cream for seven days, if your skin hasn’t started to clear up after 72 hours, see a doctor. You might need a stronger formulation or a different type of topical steroid—or you might not need a steroid at all. Long-term use reduces hydrocortisone’s effectiveness. Excessive use of prescription-strength cream may cause adrenal gland problems and loss of subcutaneous fat—giving skin a “tissue paper” appearance. Children should not use hydrocortisone creams unless their doctor has advised it.

Also see Warts: Types and Remedies.