How Does Anti-Itch Cream Work?

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  • Anti-itch drugs (or antipruritics) are medications that inhibit itching. Topical anti-itch creams are available over the counter and contain one of four different types of medications: topical steroids, topical antihistamines, topical anesthetics and counterirritants.

Topical Steroids

  • Topical steroids are popular choices for anti-itch creams. Widely available, topical steroids come in a variety of strengths, brands and formulas. The most popular steroid for anti-itch cream is hydrocortisone. An anti-inflammatory, hydrocortisone is absorbed by your skin, reducing swelling and causing a constriction of your blood vessels. This slows the release of the chemicals in your body that aggravate the 'itch' nerves. This type of itch cream is most effective at counteracting the itching caused by eczema and dermatitis.

Topical Antihistamines

  • Topical antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine, work by blocking the effects of histamines. Histamine is substance that is normally present in the body, but in the presence of an allergen, it is produced in excess. This is known as an allergic reaction, and side effects can include red, itchy skin. Anti-itch creams containing antihistamines work well for bug bites, poison ivy, poison oak and itches related to allergies.

Topical Anesthetics

  • Some anti-itch creams use topical anesthetics, such as benzocaine, to relieve itchiness by anaesthetizing itch nerves. When the nerves are no longer stimulated, the affected area goes mildly numb, and the urge to itch disappears. This type of anti-itch cream is particularly effective for treating itches caused by mild burns, primarily because of the pain-relieving element.


  • Counterirritants, such as mint oil, menthol, and camphor represent a more 'natural' choice of active ingredients for anti-itch creams. A counterirritant operates by creating a diversion. It produces sensations that attract your attention. Theoretically, by creating inflammation in one location, you will reduce the inflammation of another by creating antagonism between itch-processing neurons. These anti-itch creams are good choices for all-over body applications, such as treating a child with chicken pox.


  • Photo Credit istockphotos

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