Is there anything more annoying than an itch that won't go away? You know you shouldn't scratch it because it can lead to scarring or make the healing process longer, but it's difficult to resist when you're sunburned and peeling or your sensitive skin has a flare-up.
To the rescue are anti-itch creams that serve various purposes, including soothing sunburns, mosquito bites and conditions like eczema. Some formulas work better than others, depending on your symptoms and the cause behind your itch.
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What you want is relief — and you want it fast — so choosing the best option is key. From our research, these are the best, dermatologist-recommended anti-itch creams.
The Best Anti-Itch Creams
- Best Overall: Sarna Original Anti-Itch Moisturizing Lotion ($14.50, Amazon)
- Best for Dry or Sunburned Skin: Vaseline Intensive Care Soothing Hydration With Aloe ($6.99, Target.com)
- Best for Sensitive Skin: Vanicream HC 1% Hydrocortisone Cream ($9.95, Amazon)
- Best Cooling: Eucerin Itch Relief Intensive Calming Lotion ($8.99, Amazon)
- Best for Allergic Reactions: Benadryl Itch Stopping Gel, Extra Strength ($5.97, Amazon)
- Best for Eczema: CeraVe Cream ($17.78, Amazon)
- Best for Bug Bites: Cortizone 10 Maximum Strength Aloe Anti-Itch Creme ($7.99, Amazon)
How We Chose
Not all anti-itch creams are created equally, and they don't all serve the same purpose. To better understand what fights against pesky mosquito nibbles and what heals a sunburn fast, we chatted with board-certified dermatologists for their top recommendations. Our top picks are based on their criteria, including:
- Types of anti-itch creams
- Active ingredients
- Symptoms that need healing
- Duration and location of use
1. Best Overall: Sarna Original Anti-Itch Moisturizing Lotion
If you're looking for an anti-itch cream to have on hand at home for whenever you need relief from a patch of itchy skin, Sarna Original Anti-Itch Moisturizing Lotion is your best bet, according to Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with MDCS Dermatology in New York City.
Containing both camphor and menthol, this lotion instantly soothes the skin while providing a cooling sensation. It also moisturizes, so it won't leave the skin feeling dry or irritated.
"It is versatile and can be used for itching related to bug bites, sunburn or contact dermatitis, such as poison ivy," Dr. Garshick says.
You can safely use this product daily — and for extra comfort, she suggests putting it in the refrigerator for an enhanced cooling effect.
2. Best for Dry or Sunburned Skin: Vaseline Intensive Care Soothing Hydration With Aloe
You thought you applied sunscreen every hour while you lounged at the beach, but you somehow still ended up with a sunburn. Or maybe your skin leans on the dry side, no matter the season.
Your best bet is this fast-absorbing lotion that nourishes your skin without leaving a greasy residue, Dr. Garshick says. Its star ingredient is 100-percent pure aloe, which soothes and calms inflammation.
"By moisturizing the skin, it can help to improve the look and feel of dry, stressed or sunburned skin. It works quickly, helping to moisturize even after the first use," she says.
3. Best for Sensitive Skin: Vanicream HC 1% Hydrocortisone Cream
While some people can try any and all skin and beauty products they desire without worry, those with sensitive skin have to stick to the basics to prevent breakouts, redness or other ailments.
Sensitive skin can sometimes mean itchy skin, particularly if you come in contact with an irritant. If you're experiencing uncomfortable, gotta-scratch skin, Dr. Garshick recommends this cream that contains 1-percent hydrocortisone to reduce inflammation.
"This formulation is especially good for those with sensitive skin as it is paraben-free, fragrance-free, formaldehyde-free and dye-free," she says. "It is easy to use and won't leave the skin feeling greasy. It is non-comedogenic and can be used on the face or body."
If you want an added layer of relief, Dr. Garshick adds this anti-itch cream pairs well with the Vanicream Moisturizing Cream ($13.56, Amazon). Apply the hydrocortisone product only to your itchy areas; the moisturizing cream can be applied all over.
4. Best Cooling: Eucerin Itch Relief Intensive Calming Lotion
When you need to scratch an itch, sometimes you seek hydration. Other times, when your itch feels hot or super-inflamed, you yearn for cooling relief.
To the rescue is Eucerin's Itch Relief Intensive Calming Lotion, which contains 0.1-percent menthol, providing an instant cooling and soothing sensation, Dr. Garshick says.
It also contains ceramides to help support the skin barrier and vitamin E to help soothe and heal the skin, she says. "It can be used daily and won't leave the skin feeling greasy. It is also fragrance-free, paraben-free and dye-free," which makes it a good pick for sensitive skin.
5. Best for Allergic Reactions: Benadryl Itch Stopping Gel, Extra Strength
Following an adventurous hike, you come home to soak your tired feet — and you notice small sores along your heels. What gives?
You may have potentially come in contact with poison ivy, and now you're experiencing what's known as contact dermatitis. This clinical term describes a reaction that appears when the skin comes into contact with an irritant or an allergen, explains board-certified dermatologist Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, chief medical officer for Ideal Image.
Because one of the most prominent symptoms of a topical allergic reaction is itching, she recommends this pick from Benadryl.
"This formula works by blocking the histamine response that causes itching and inflammation associated with allergic reaction," she continues. "It also contains a topical analgesic — 2 percent diphenhydramine hydrochloride — to reduce the pain and discomfort that comes with itching and inflammation."
6. Best for Eczema: CeraVe Cream
If you have atopic dermatitis — or eczema — you know itchy flare-ups can happen. They tend to be more common in the colder months, and unfortunately, the condition is chronic with no cure.
CeraVe has ceramides, she says, or molecules important to creating our skin barrier, which is disrupted when you have eczema.
"One common complaint about moisturizers in people with eczema is that their skin dries out quickly after applying a moisturizer," she says. "The added ceramides basically allow the skin to retain moisture and for the moisturizing effects of the cream to be more long-lasting."
In the cooler months, when eczema symptoms tend to intensify, Dr. Colombo recommends mixing CeraVe Cream with Aquaphor ($15.97, Amazon) or Vaseline ($3.85, Amazon) for an even greater emollient effect.
7. Best for Bug Bites: Cortizone 10 Maximum Strength Aloe Anti-Itch Creme
When a barbecue in your backyard or an evening sitting around the fire has led to more mosquito bites than you can count, it's time to apply Cortizone cream ASAP, Dr. Robinson says.
This anti-itch formula marries hydrocortisone with skin-soothing aloe to target inflammation and itching associated with bug bites.
"When relief is achieved quickly through a hard-hitting, multitasking product like this one, then the patient is less likely to itch and worsen the irritation leading to further inflammation and potentially scarring," she says.
What to Look for in an Anti-Itch Cream
1. Types of Anti-Itch Creams
One of the most important considerations when shopping for an anti-itch cream is the type of formula you need for your symptoms. There are three primary options: steroids, antihistamines and anesthetics.
- Topical steroids reduce inflammation and address rashes like dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis, says Macrene Alexiades, MD, PhD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of MACRENE actives. "The most common, well-known one is hydrocortisone cream, which is available over-the-counter," she says, adding: "Topical steroids are meant for short-term use and may lead to problems if overused."
- Topical antihistamines block a chemical in the body that produces itching related to an allergy. "Allergies occur when your body's immune system overreacts to a triggering substance, known as an allergen, and releases a chemical called histamine," Dr. Alexiades continues. "Histamine leads to allergy symptoms, such as itching, that range from mild to severe. Antihistamines are medications that block the action of histamine in your body, reducing your allergic response." A good example of this is Benadryl.
- Topical anesthetics are typically used to numb pain, but they may also be used for itchiness associated with specific skin issues such as minor burns, bug bites and poison ivy, Dr. Alexiades says. "These drugs work by blocking nerve endings in the skin from sending signals to the brain," she adds.
2. Duration of Use
While some anti-itch creams can be used for any period — like a lotion from Vaseline or CeraVe — others have a limited timeframe. An example might be hydrocortisone cream, which should only be used for a week before you seek help from your dermatologist or trusted doctor.
3. Location of Use
Some anti-itch creams, like a lotion from Vaseline or Cerave, can be applied all over your face and body. However, other topical formulas, like Benadryl or hydrocortisone cream, should only be applied to the inflamed or irritated area.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.