Dealing with Eczema? Here’s What to Know About Topical Treatments


If you’ve ever been prescribed a medication to treat your eczema, you may have been told it was a “topical.” Topical medications are applied directly to the skin—in fact, it comes from the Greek word “topos,” meaning “place.”

Topical medications include creams, lotions, and ointments, among others. They are used to treat skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and acne but also for other things like fungal infections and birth control.

Topical medications come in different strengths and types. Here’s what to know about topical treatments for eczema.

As a skin condition, eczema can present itself in a variety of ways. Some people may experience a red, itchy rash that looks like blisters. Others may experience a dry skin patch that’s intensely itchy. And though it’s most common in kids, adults can get eczema too.

To help ease symptoms of eczema, doctors often prescribe topical medications to treat the condition.

“Eczema is a genetic condition where people have overactive immune cells in their skin,” says Dr. Paul Yamauchi, a board-certified dermatologist and director of the Center for Dermatology Care in Thousand Oaks, California. “It’s commonly treated with topical steroids or nonsteroidal creams.”

Topical steroids are anti-inflammatory drugs that come in the form of ointments, creams, and lotions. They’re typically effective at reducing symptoms like itchiness and swelling. Topical steroids are available in different strengths and options such as foam or solution formulations.

Eczema is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition that has no cure, but it is treatable. The goal of eczema treatment is to relieve and prevent itching, which can lead to infection. Your dermatologist may recommend a combination of treatments, including medications, moisturizers and lifestyle changes.

Topical Treatments

Creams and ointments containing corticosteroids are the most common treatment for eczema. These medicines help reduce inflammation in the skin. Prescription-strength creams help more severe rashes. Over-the-counter (OTC) products may improve milder rashes.

The part of the body being treated and the age of the patient are important factors in choosing which topical medication to use. For instance, it’s best not to use topical steroids on the face if possible because these medications can thin the skin with long-term use. In these cases, your dermatologist may prescribe a milder topical steroid or an alternative treatment such as topical pimecrolimus or tacrolimus.

Your doctor may recommend using petroleum jelly (Vaseline®) or thick creams and ointments as a barrier between your skin and irritating substances such as soaps or clothes that are rough or scratch

There are a variety of options for treating eczema, including creams, ointments and pills. The type of treatment you use depends on the age of the patient, the severity of the eczema symptoms and the area of skin affected.

Topical creams and ointments are often prescribed for eczema. These are medications that are applied to the skin to treat flare-ups.

Topical corticosteroids are a type of anti-inflammatory medication used to control flare-ups. They come in different strengths and can be used to treat mild, moderate or severe cases.

Another topical option is topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs), which reduce inflammation by preventing the activity of certain cells in your immune system that cause inflammation.

Adults with eczema may be prescribed a topical retinoid. These medications contain vitamin A derivatives that help reduce inflammation and prevent flare-ups. Topical retinoids can make your skin more sensitive to light, so it’s important to avoid sun exposure while using this medication.

When you have eczema, you’re probably going to try different topical treatments.

Topical medications for eczema are applied directly to the skin and come in many forms, including creams, lotions, gels, and ointments. They can be used alone or in combination with other treatments, such as oral medications or light therapy.

Most topical treatments fall into one of three categories:

Over-the-counter (OTC) corticosteroids are the most commonly used topical medication for eczema, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). They include name brand products like Cortizone-10 and generic versions that contain ingredients like hydrocortisone and triamcinolone. These are anti-inflammatory drugs that can reduce itching and redness.

Topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs) are prescription creams or ointments that target the immune system. They include tacrolimus (Protopic) and pimecrolimus (Elidel).

Topical antibiotics are reserved for treating infected areas of skin. For example, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic cream if you have impetigo, a bacterial skin infection that often occurs alongside eczema.

Patients with eczema frequently have involvement of several areas of the body. One treatment option that works well for these patients are topical corticosteroids.

There are a variety of strengths of topical corticosteroids available to treat eczema, including over-the-counter creams, gels and ointments as well as prescription strength creams, gels, ointments and solutions. Treatment with a topical corticosteroid is often first initiated by a primary care physician. A dermatologist may be consulted if there is no improvement after a course of therapy in which the medication was used correctly.

How do I use topical corticosteroids?

The frequency of application depends on the strength of the medication. Over-the-counter topical corticosteroids may be used daily or twice daily. Prescription strength topical corticosteroids are often prescribed for twice daily application, but some can be applied once daily.

The amount to apply is also dependent on the strength of the medication. It is important to follow your dermatologist’s instructions and not to use any more than what you have been recommended, since this can cause skin thinning and other adverse effects.

Eczema is a common skin condition where patches of skin become inflamed, itchy, red, cracked, and rough. It can be painful and uncomfortable.

Research has shown that approximately 31.6 million Americans have eczema. This condition can affect people of any age, but it often starts in childhood. There is no cure for this condition, but there are treatments that can help reduce symptoms and prevent flare-ups.

Topical medications are medicines that are applied to the skin to treat a skin condition. They work by reducing inflammation and calming the immune system response that causes eczema symptoms.

There are three main types of topical medications used to treat eczema. These include:

Corticosteroids (steroids)

Topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs)

Moisturizers and emollients


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