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What Are the Different Types of Dermatology Creams?

By Nicole Etolen
Updated Jan 31, 2024
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Skin care professionals use a variety of dermatology creams to treat many different skin conditions. The type of cream used depends on the condition. Anti-inflammatory corticosteroids may be used to treat acne while anti-fungal dermatology creams help eliminate fungal infections. While some creams are available over-the-counter (OTC), many of the creams require a physical exam and prescription.

Anti-inflammatory dermatology creams contain various strengths of topical corticosteroids. The mildest strengths are usually available OTC, but may not be effective against severe acne and skin conditions. Prescription-strength corticosteroid preparations may be more effective, but can also cause serious side effects, such as a rash or allergic reaction. They can also increase the patient’s susceptibility to infection. Dermatologists typically prescribe the lowest effective dose possible to reduce the risk of complications.

Mild cases of acne may respond to benzoyl peroxide dermatology creams. The medication acts as both an antiseptic and an anti-inflammatory. It also reduces the amount of comedones, or pimples, on the skin. Dermatologists often prescribe it as a first line of defense because it is typically safe for adults and children, and can be used by pregnant women. Side effects include mild dryness and irritation. Severe skin irritation is rare.

Salicylic acid is another commonly used topical cream, as it can treat a number of different conditions, including acne, psoriasis, and warts. Dermatology creams containing this ingredient work by loosening the flaky layers of skin, which allows them to easily peel away and reveals healthier skin beneath. Side effects include redness or stinging sensations around the treated area. Those using salicylic acid creams should avoid cleansers containing alcohol or other drying agents.

Topical retinoid creams are used to treat a variety of skin conditions, including moderate to severe acne, psoriasis, and signs of aging. While some OTC beauty creams contain low doses of retinoids, most effective creams are available by prescription only. Retinoid creams can cause mild irritation, but regular cleansing with a mild soap may help relieve the irritation. Retinoids increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so dermatologists recommend wearing sunscreen or protective clothing when going outside.

Fungal infections such as athlete’s foot, nail infections, and ringworm often respond well to anti-fungal dermatology creams. Like corticosteroid creams, they are available in both OTC and prescription strengths. OTC creams are often effective against simple infections, but cases that are more stubborn may require stronger medication. Unlike oral antifungal medications, which can cause severe side effects, topical antifungal creams are rarely dangerous. Very occasionally, rashes and blistering can occur.

Some OTC beauty creams contain ingredients typically found in special dermatology creams, but they are usually present in very low doses and typically are not as effective as those prescribed by a dermatologist. Some conditions can be further irritated by using the wrong medication. Those suffering from moderate to severe skin conditions, or persistent mild conditions, should contact a skin care specialist for further evaluation before relying on OTC creams.

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