Non-Prescription Treatment Options for Mild to Severe Atopic Dermatitis

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: April 2024

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a common skin condition. It produces red, itchy, and inflamed skin. Prescription medicines are often necessary. But there are also many non-prescription options for managing eczema.1,2

But remember: Everyone’s eczema is different. Certain treatments may work for you but not for others. Work with your doctor to determine the best treatment option for you.3

What options are available for mild to moderate eczema?

For folks with mild eczema, over-the-counter (OTC) products can provide relief from symptoms. These products typically help hydrate the skin and reduce inflammation. To do that, OTC products include:1-3

  • Moisturizers
  • Creams
  • Ointments

Moisturizers

As a first step in eczema treatment, moisturizers help soothe dry, itchy skin and prevent flare-ups. They help to:3

  • Replenish the skin’s natural barrier
  • Retain moisture
  • Reduce inflammation

When selecting a moisturizer, opt for products that:3

Some moisturizers are water-based. Some are oil-based. Typically, oil-based moisturizers are better at treating eczema.3

You can also look for products that contain ingredients like:3

  • Colloidal oatmeal – Known for its soothing properties, colloidal oatmeal can help relieve itching and irritation.
  • Ceramides – These are lipid molecules that help repair the skin’s natural barrier and reduce moisture loss.
  • Hyaluronic acid – Attracts and retains moisture, keeping the skin hydrated and reducing dryness.

Apply moisturizers at least twice a day. Applying right after bathing or showering helps lock in moisture. Gentle cleansers without harsh chemicals or fragrances can help prevent further irritation.3

Plant-based oils

Plant-based oils, such as coconut oil and sunflower oil, are popular natural remedies for eczema. That is because these oils have moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties. Applying a thin layer of oil to affected areas after bathing or showering can help lock in moisture. These oils can help:3

  • Soothe dry, irritated skin
  • Reduce itching
  • Improve the skin's barrier function

When using plant-based oils to treat eczema, choose high-quality oils. Look for the terms “cold-pressed” or “virgin” in the description. You might also want to do a patch test to check for any adverse reactions.3

Bath treatments

Adding colloidal oatmeal, baking soda, or Epsom salts to bathwater can help soothe irritated and inflamed skin. Adding gentle bath oils (without fragrances or additives) or apple cider vinegar are also good alternatives. Make sure the bathwater is not too hot or too cold – warm is best.2,3

Hydrocortisone cream

Available in most drugstores, hydrocortisone creams and ointments can help reduce inflammation and itching. But these products are only recommended for short-term use. That means they are not meant to be taken for longer than 1 week. If you have moderate eczema, check with your doctor about prescription topical creams that might be more effective for you.1

What options are available for moderate to severe eczema?

People with moderate to severe eczema may require more intensive treatment than mild to moderate eczema. Prescription medicines may be the best route for effective treatment. But there are still some non-prescription options that can provide relief from symptoms.2

Oral antihistamines

Antihistamines can help relieve allergen-induced itching. It causes sedation to help with sleeplessness caused by eczema itching. But they do not directly reduce inflammation. They are often used in combination with other treatments to provide comprehensive relief.1,4

There are many types of oral antihistamines available OTC and without a prescription. These include:1

  • Benadryl®, Siladryl, Unisom®, Banophen™, Sudafed® (diphenhydramine)
  • Chlor-Trimeton®, Wal-Finate™, Aller-Chlor® (chlorpheniramine)
  • Zyrtec®, Aller-Tec®, Cetiri-D (cetirizine)

Wet wrap therapy

Wet wrap therapy can be helpful for severe eczema flares with severe itch or pain. Wet wrap therapy involves applying a thick layer of moisturizer or medicated cream to the affected areas on your body and then wrapping them with damp bandages or cloth. Wet wrap therapy can help:2,3

  • Hydrate the skin
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Relieve severe itching

Phototherapy

Phototherapy is also known as light therapy. It involves exposing the skin to ultraviolet (UV) light under medical supervision. Phototherapy works by:2

  • Suppressing the immune response in the skin
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Reduces the growth of bacteria on the skin that worsens eczema

Light in both the UVB and UVA ranges are commonly used during phototherapy for eczema. Sessions are usually done in a healthcare setting. Healthcare settings include a doctor’s office or clinic. The number of treatment sessions will be guided by your doctor.2

OTC pain relievers

There are times when you might need to use a pain reliever to alleviate some of the burning, pain, and inflammation that eczema can cause. Examples of OTC pain relievers include:1

  • NSAIDs like ibuprofen, Motrin®, or Advil®
  • Tylenol® (acetaminophen)
  • Aleve® (naproxen)

Bleach baths

Bleach baths are felt to have antibacterial, anti-itching effects on the skin and improve the skin barrier. They have been shown to reduce the severity of moderate to severe eczema.5

What alternative remedies can you consider?

Dietary supplements may provide some relief. And there are many other alternative home remedies and options you can try. These include:3

  • Ayurvedic treatments
  • Relaxation techniques

As always, talk to your doctor about which options are right for you.

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