Choosing the right topical product to treat minor skin conditions
There are a lot of over-the-counter products (OTC) that can be used to relieve or prevent minor skin conditions like itchiness, infection, acne, sunburns or dryness. Learn about five types of products and the best way to use them.
Products for itchiness and irritation
Topical products are available in various forms, including creams, lotions, sprays, and bath oils and sachets.
These products usually contain one or more of the following ingredients:
- Hydrocortisone- acts on the inflammation of the skin
- Pramoxine- temporarily blocks pain signals
- Calamine- reduces itching and helps dry out blister-like rashes
- Colloidal oatmeal- soothes itchiness by moisturizing skin
These products help soothe skin irritation or itchiness caused by:
- Skin contact with a plant (e.g., poison ivy, sumac)
- Skin contact with an irritant (e.g., detergent)
- Insect bites
- Minor burns
It is always best to consult your pharmacist to help choose the right product for your condition as some products are more appropriate at treating certain skin conditions.
Topical antibiotics sold over the counter contain polymyxin B, bacitracin, gramicidin or a combination of these ingredients. They are used to treat minor cuts, scrapes, and burns. Sometimes an ingredient like lidocaine is added to temporarily help relieve pain.
Clean the wound thoroughly with water before applying the antibiotic. Do not use soap, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, or iodine because these products cause too much irritation on open wounds.
Consult your pharmacist to see whether medical care, such as stitches or a tetanus shot, is required.
Over-the-counter acne treatment products usually contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Benzoyl peroxide kills bacteria that cause acne and helps remove excess sebum (a naturally occurring oily substance) that can block skin pores whereas salicylic acid sheds the skin to allow for healthier skin to grow. These are both effective for mild acne.
Since these products can irritate skin, it is important to begin treatment gradually and increase to the recommended dose if your skin tolerates them well. It may take several weeks of treatment before you notice any improvement.
You can consult your pharmacist for more information on how to use and choose the right product for your skin condition.
Products to relieve sunburns
To soothe sunburned skin, look for a product that contains aloe vera or use a hypoallergenic moisturizer. It is best to avoid products that contain a topical anesthetic such as lidocaine or benzocaine because it can irritate the skin even more or cause an allergic reaction.
Moisturizing products to relieve skin dryness
Moisturizing products contain various ingredients that help retain water in the skin and prevent it from evaporating too fast. They come in many forms, such as ointments, creams, and lotions.
- Ointments (also called “salves” or “balms”) are oily preparations like petroleum jelly. They are highly effective, especially on very dry zones like hands, elbows, knees, and feet. However, they leave behind a greasy texture.
- Creams are a mix of oils and water, and their texture ranges from light to rich. They are less moisturizing than ointments, but are easier to apply.
- Lotions contain a high proportion of water, which gives them a more liquid consistency and makes them easier to apply. However, they don’t moisturize to the same extent as creams and ointments. They are useful for treating hair-covered zones such as the scalp.
For best results, moisturizing products should be applied immediately after showering or bathing, while skin is still slightly damp.
Some moisturizing products are designed for specific skin types. These include non-comedogenic products for acne and hypoallergenic products for sensitive skin.
Skin care is highly individualized and your pharmacist knows the best option for the condition you have. Consult your pharmacist for information on different skin conditions and products.
The information contained herein is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide complete information on the subject matter or to replace the advice of a health professional. This information does not constitute medical consultation, diagnosis or opinion and should not be interpreted as such. Please consult your health care provider if you have any questions about your health, medications or treatment.