Featured OTC Anti Itch Drugs: Topical Hydrocortisone vs. Caladryl

It becomes a lot easier to choose between the two featured over-the-counter topical antipruritics also known as topical anti-itch medications by presenting brief differences between both. A quick glance at the basic differences helps to guide an over-the counter (OTC) shopper against confusing label claims thereby leading to uninformed decisions for the appropriate over-the counter topical use and remedy for mild to moderate itch.

Topical hydrocortisone (steroid) helps to provide relief of itch due to skin inflammation and is not recommended to be used to treat a generalized itch. Due to potential side effects, topical hydrocortisone is not intended for long term use and may be used where the itch is limited to a small area.

Caladryl (non steroid), on the other hand, has active ingredients with combined anti-itch properties. The three (3) main active ingredients in Caladryl are Calamine, Pramoxin HCL, and Camphor which provide anti-itch properties but in different ways. Calamine acts as a skin protectant, Pramoxine HCL as an anesthetic and Camphor, a counterirritant, acts as a cooling agent which helps to mask the itch sensation.

So, which OTC anti-itch medication should you use, topical hydrocortisone or caladryl? The choice of which product to use is related to and is dependent on the cause of itch which could be due to skin damage, inflammation or dryness. Topical hydrocortisone is suited for itch related to or caused by skin inflammation. Caladryl, on the other hand, is suited for itch due to skin dryness. Other available over-the-counter (OTC) treatments of mild to moderate itch are topical antihistamines, Capsaicin, cooling agents, emollients and low pH cleansers and moisturizers.


  • Therapeutic Classification: Dermatological disorders (Topical steroids)
  • Pharmacologic Classification: Anti-inflammatory / Antipruritic
  • Generic Description: Hydrocortisone 0.5%, 1%
  • Indications: Topical inflammation and pruritus
  • Adults and Children Apply thin film 2-4 times daily.
  • Contraindications: Untreated bacterial or viral infections, Hypersensitivity to glucocorticoid or components of vehicles (ointment or cream base, preservative, alcohol).
  • Precautions: Hepatic dysfunction, Diabetes, Cataracts, Glaucoma or tuberculosis, Preexisting skin atrophy, Pregnancy, Lactation or Children.
  • Side Effects: Allergic contact dermatitis, atrophy, burning, dryness, edema, folliculitis, hypersensitivity reaction, hypertrichosis, hypo pigmentation, irritation, maceration, miliaria, perioral dermatitis, secondary infection, striae, adrenal suppression (may be due to use of occlusive dressings, long term therapy).
  • How Supplied: Cream and ointment —0.5%, 1%.


  • Therapeutic Classification: Dermatological disorders (Topical non steroids)
  • Pharmacologic Classification: Anesthetics / Antipruritic
  • Generic Description: Calamine 3%, Camphor 0.3% / Pramoxine HCL 1%
  • Indications: Pruritus and topical anesthetics.
  • Adults and Children: Not recommended in children under 2 years. Over 2 years apply up to 4 times daily.
  • Contraindications: Hypersensitivity to drug/class/components
  • Precautions: Avoid eyes
  • Side Effects: Skin lesions, anaphylactoid, skin sloughing.
  • How supplied: Lotion, Cream

Leave a Reply