What are the Different Types of Anti-Itch Ointment?

Jodee Redmond

When an individual is looking for relief from skin irritations that makes him or her want to scratch, he or she can use an anti-itch ointment to get the results they are looking for. There are three types of products that can be used for this purpose. Depending on the type of itch and where the problem area is on the body, an individual may choose to use an ointment with an antihistamine, a topical steroid or one containing a local anesthetic, such as benzocaine. The type of anti-itch product chosen will depend on the type of skin irritation involved.

A tube of anti-itch ointment.
A tube of anti-itch ointment.

An anti-itch ointment containing an antihistamine can be used to treat itchy skin conditions caused by an allergic reaction. Insect bites and the irritation caused by poison ivy and poison oak fall into these categories. A topical antihistamine works in the same way as an oral one; it helps to block the histamines that the body produces to excess when it has come into contact with an allergen.

A woman applying an anti-itch ointment.
A woman applying an anti-itch ointment.

Another option for someone who wants to get relief from an itchy skin condition is to use an ointment containing a topical steroid. This type of anti-itch ointment is available in a number of strengths and is applied sparingly to the affected area. This type of anti-itch ointment has an anti-inflammatory effect, which helps to reduce swelling. It can be used for eczema, dermatitis, and skin rashes. Anti-itch ointment containing topical steroids can also be used for poison ivy, poison oak and insect bites.

People with poison oak may benefit from using an anti-itch ointment.
People with poison oak may benefit from using an anti-itch ointment.

Topical steroids are available over the counter in relatively low concentrations. For more serious conditions, a doctor can prescribe a stronger anti-itch ointment. These remedies should be used only as directed and for a limited time. If the condition being treated hasn't resolved itself within seven days, a doctor should be consulted.

Prescription hydrocortisone might alleviate itching better than OTC products.
Prescription hydrocortisone might alleviate itching better than OTC products.

Anti-itch ointments containing a local anesthetic can be used to treat skin conditions that can cause pain and itching, such as sunburn, cuts, scratches and minor burns. The product works by numbing the nerve endings in the area it is applied to. This type of anti-itch remedy can also be used to treat rashes, poison sumac, poison ivy and poison oak.

Products containing a local anesthetic are available in several different formulations. Consumers can buy them in a cream, lotion or spray. Anti-itch remedies of this type are also available as a gel, foam or patch.

Anti-itch ointment containing topical steroids can be used to treat poison ivy rashes.
Anti-itch ointment containing topical steroids can be used to treat poison ivy rashes.

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Discussion Comments


For anyone who gets poison ivy a lot, I would highly, highly suggest getting some Zanfel to keep on hand. It is specially designed to neutralize the oils that cause the itching and rashes. It is kind of pricey, but well worth it for being itch-free.

Preferably, you should use it as soon after contact with poison ivy as you can, but it will also help relive the itching after you already develop the rash.

I work out in the woods a lot, so I am always in contact with poison ivy. It doesn't help that I used to be very allergic to it. Over time, I've developed a lot of resistance, but if I come in contact with poison ivy, I will wash with the cream, and it really helps a lot.

Zanfel might not be quite as long lasting as calamine lotion or some of the other anti-itch creams, but once you use it, you wash it off and it doesn't leave residue. That way you can go out in public for an hour or so without itching and without being colored pink from calamine lotion.


I actually prefer to take an oral anti-histamine rather than use an anti-itch ointment. I find that most ointments are either greasy or smelly, and the oral anti-histamines work just as well!

Granted, I think the creams work a little bit faster. But I find the creams so annoying the trade of is worth it to just take an oral anti-histamine instead.


@sunnySkys - That does sound pretty disturbing. I try not to use cortizone ointment too often, and when I do I use it very sparingly.

I like to use natural alternatives if I need anti-itch ointment. I usually buy this ointment from my local health food store that has aloe vera in it and a few other natural ingredients. I find that it works just as well as the alternatives, but with no possibility of scary side effects!

I think that especially if you use anti-itch cream often, it would be well worth it to check out some of the natural alternatives.


For me, aloe vera gel works better than any medicated anti-itch cream. I use it on everything from sunburns to bug bites, and it is way more effective than anything else I’ve tried.

Many people use it to treat sunburn. It’s cooling effect takes the sting out of the burn, and it moisturizes the dry skin. It can even keep your skin from peeling.

When I get a bug bite, I apply aloe vera for instant relief. It takes away the itching, and because it cools my skin so much, it also takes away the heat that goes along with insect bites.


@shell4life - I'm not sure what would happen if you used it over a large area. I know using steroid creams like Cortizone 10 for long periods of time is definitely a bad idea though. Overuse can lead to a few unpleasant side effects.

One of the scariest side effects is thinning of the skin. A friend of mine overused steroid creams for her eczema and she had this side effects. She said it was pretty disturbing. One day a layer of her skin in the area where she was using the cream just started to peel off.

So I definitely wouldn't use that stuff for too long!


@shell4life - You should be careful not too use too much steroidal cream. It can cause your skin to thin out, and this can cause stretch marks that will become permanent. It also could make your blood vessels stand out more.

If you use a whole lot of it for a long time, then it could affect your body’s steroid production. The label on my prescription steroidal anti-itch cream says that it could even lead to Cushing’s syndrome.

I use steroidal cream to treat rashes, but I keep other less dangerous types of anti-itch creams around for bug bites. Antihistamine creams work great for this.


I have found steroid anti-itch creams to be the most effective for just about every kind of itch I have. I think I probably use it too much, though.

The label says not to apply it over a large area, so I only put it directly on my insect bites or rashes. I stay outdoors a lot, and I get bitten frequently. I have been tempted to smear the cream all over my calves rather than dot it here and there.

What would happen if I did put on too much of it? Would I get sick?


@chivebasil - Calamine lotion is awesome. It dries in about a minute, and it sucks the moisture out of itchy bumps as it does.

My husband gets poison ivy often, and he covers the affected area with calamine lotion. I am unaffected by poison ivy, but I get a lot of mosquito bites, and I always cover them with it. This lotion is the only kind that makes the bites stop itching.

My mother introduced me to it as a child. She put it on my foot when I got bitten by fire ants, and I have been using it ever since.


I have suffered from minor eczema for a long time now. But recently it seems to be getting worse. I know that I should go in to see a doctor but I don't have very good insurance and I would like to avid it if I can.

So I am hoping that someone can answer some questions for me. First, why would my eczema be getting worse? My lifestyle has not changed, I still use the same soaps and detergents. Also, what is the best eczema cream that I can get over the counter? I would like to get some kind of cheap and easily available eczema ointment before I get a prescription from a doctor. I know that eczema is not a big deal as far as rashes go but it an be very annoying.


When I get a skin rash I usually use calamine lotion. I know that people usually only think of using this for poison ivy but it works for all kinds of itchy skin irritations.

In my experience this works a lot better than most of the anti itch creams on the market. It is a little bit expensive, but really how often do you use it? It works on rashes besides poison ivy like poison oak and sumac but it also works on mosquito bites and chemical skin irritations.

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