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Dermatitis treatment

White cream being rubbed into elbow
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Have you been experiencing the symptoms of dermatitis – dry, inflamed and itchy skin? Read on for a guide to dermatitis treatment, including what products you can get over the counter in a pharmacy or order online.

How is dermatitis treated?

Dermatitis, also known as eczema, is typically treated using two things:

  • Emollients – cleansers and moisturisers designed for very dry, sensitive skin
  • Topical corticosteroids – medicated creams and ointments applied directly to affected areas

If you have atopic eczema you should apply emollients to your skin every day, and only apply topical corticosteroids when you’re experiencing a flare-up.

Other types of dermatitis are usually approached in similar ways, for example, by applying medicated treatments and moisturisers to the affected areas of skin. In some cases, these treatments will not be enough to manage symptoms, and you may require a different type of specialised treatment.

What dermatitis treatments are available?


Using emollients every day is vital in the management of atopic dermatitis. It’s also recommended if you have another variety of the condition such as contact or nummular dermatitis.

Emollient moisturisers come as lotions, creams and ointments. They keep the skin soft and supple, and reduce itching and inflammation. When used regularly and liberally, emollients can reduce the need for topical corticosteroids.

Ointments contain a high volume of fats, making them thick, greasy and intensely moisturising for very dry skin. For skin that is less dry, or is covered in hair, a lighter emollient such as lotion or cream is more suitable.

Emollient cleansers come as bath oils and milks. These can be added to the water, and work by softening and soothing the skin while you bathe. They are a good alternative to products containing soap, which can irritate and dry out the skin.

When buying an emollient, it’s best to ask advice from a pharmacist or doctor. Emollients for dermatitis are typically unperfumed and tailored towards sensitive skin. One good option to try is grahams natural C+ eczema and dermatitis cream, as it has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

Topical corticosteroids

After emollients, topical corticosteroids are the most important treatment for managing dermatitis symptoms. If you’re using emollients every day (and avoiding things that might trigger a flare-up) you may be able to limit how often you experience symptoms such as itching, redness and soreness.

When you do start to have a flare-up you can treat it with topical corticosteroids. These are creams and ointments containing steroids such as hydrocortisone and clobetasone butyrate. They range in strength from mild and moderate, to potent and very potent.

Topical corticosteroid creams should be applied to areas of the skin affected by dermatitis. It’s usually advised that you use an emollient first, waiting 30 minutes until it has soaked in to apply the medicated cream. You should only have to use a topical corticosteroid treatment for a few days to see results.

Certain types of mild or moderate topical corticosteroids (including hydrocortisone cream and eumovate) are available over the counter, or online from LloydsPharmacy.

Medicated shampoos

If you live with seborrhoeic dermatitis, which affects the scalp, the primary treatment for your condition will be medicated shampoos. Because seborrhoeic dermatitis is thought to be caused by a reaction to yeast living on the skin, your pharmacist or doctor might recommend an over-the-counter anti-yeast shampoo such as nizoral or selsun.

  • Nizoral  helps to treat scalp inflammation that causes dandruff
  • Selsun  reduces scalp greasiness and slows down the growth of skin cells on the scalp

You can also try using coal tar shampoos, as these can help with dryness, itching and flaking. Popular coal tar shampoos include neutrogena t/gel and polytar. For a very scaly scalp, a medicated shampoo containing salicylic acid may be required – this helps to strip away built up skin.

  • Neutrogena t/gel therapeutic shampoo  use two to three times a week to treat itchy and flaky scalps
  • Polytar  soothes itchiness and inflammation, this shampoo can also be used to treat scalp psoriasis

Though they are called shampoos, these products should not be used to clean the hair. They should be applied as a treatment, and typically left on for five to 10 minutes before being washed off.

Wet soaks

If you have pompholyx/dyshidrotic dermatitis, which causes blisters to develop on the hands and feet, you might need to use a treatment known as a wet soak. This is where you soak your hands or feet in a medicated solution, typically containing potassium permanganate.


If you have atopic dermatitis or nummular dermatitis (also known as discoid eczema) you might experience a lot of itching. Taking oral antihistamines may help to reduce this itching.

If your itching is keeping you awake, your doctor may prescribe antihistamines that have a sedative effect to help you sleep.

Medicated bandages and wet wraps

If your skin is very itchy and dry you can have it wrapped in bandages or wet wraps. These help to moisturise and heal the skin, reduce inflammation, itching and cracking, and stop you from scratching and damaging the skin. Bandages and wraps contain emollients as well as medicated treatments such as coal tar and topical corticosteroids.

If you have a skin infection you shouldn’t use bandages or wet wraps.

Other dermatitis treatments

If the treatments above are not keeping your dermatitis symptoms under control you may require a different approach. In severe cases, your doctor will likely refer you to a dermatologist.

Severe dermatitis can be treated with:

  • Phototherapy, where ultraviolet light is directed at the skin
  • Corticosteroid tablets
  • Immunosuppressants and immunomodulators
  • Alitretinoin, which is specifically used to treat eczema on the hands and feet

Do I need to visit a doctor for dermatitis treatment?

Not necessarily. If your dermatitis symptoms are only mild, you may be able to treat them yourself simply by using plenty of emollients on your skin – visit your nearest LloydsPharmacy and speak to a pharmacist for advice on the best emollients.

Even if you experience flare-ups of itching and soreness, you may still be able to get the treatment you need without visiting a doctor. This is because certain mild and moderately potent topical corticosteroids are available over the counter in pharmacies.

You should only ever try to obtain prescription-strength dermatitis treatments from your GP or through a secure service such as LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor.

It’s normally best to speak to a doctor when you first start experiencing dermatitis symptoms, or if you’re finding it hard to keep your symptoms under control. If you’re using topical corticosteroids regularly this is a sign that your condition is not being well managed, and you may require a prescription-strength treatment.