Creams, ointments and lotions are used to treat many skin conditions. They are known as topical treatments, as they are only to be used externally on the skin.

Topical treatments may also include washes, foams, sprays, gels, shampoos or patches.

While some treatments are available over the counter at the chemist, others require a prescription, and some may require that you are routinely monitored if you are advised to use them.

Some common topical treatments for skin conditions include;

These are medicines used to treat or prevent bacterial infection.

These are medicines used to treat fungal skin conditions or fungal nail infections.

Used to treat skin conditions like eczema and contact dermatitis, corticosteroids come in many different forms, including foams, lotions, ointments, and creams.

Used to treat skin conditions like eczema, these medications do not contain steroids.

These medications derived from vitamin A (such as Retin-A and Differin) can be gels, or creams, are used to treat conditions including acne.

These treatments for acne can be gels, foams, lotions, washes or creams.

There are different strengths available over the counter, or it might need to be prescribed in the treatment of psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis.

These treatments for acne and some types of warts can be gels, foams, lotions, washes, patches, or creams.

What is the Process of Treatment with Creams?

Topical treatments are meant only to be used on the skin, but they should not be used on the face or underarms unless advised by the dermatologist.

Before applying a topical treatment, wash and dry your hands, and ensure the affected area is clean and dry.

If you are using the lotion or foam, shake it well just before using, however if you are using a spray, check the product package to see if it needs to be shaken before each use.

A small amount of medication should be applied to the affected area as directed by the dermatologist, or in the case of over the counter medications, by the product packaging or pharmacist’s advice.

Do not bandage, cover, or wrap the area unless advised to do so by the doctor; and if topical treatment is being used in or near the nappy area on an infant, do not use tight-fitting diapers or plastic pants.

After applying the medication, wash your hands, unless the hands are the area affected by the skin condition.

Take care that you do not apply or transfer any topical treatment to the eyes, nose or mouth. If contact occurs, rinse well with clean water, and if any prolonged irritation occurs, contact the clinic or your GP.

Only use topical medication for the condition it was prescribed for, or, in the case of over the counter treatments, a condition listed on the product package.

Never share topical treatments with others, and make sure you adhere to the advice of your dermatologist or GP on how frequently you should treat the affected area, and when you need to stop treatment.

Topical treatments will be used by almost everyone during the course of their life, but some treatments are not suitable for people with certain medical conditions. You can consult your GP or your pharmacist to ask if it’s suitable to use a topical treatment for a skin condition.

What are the Risks and Complications?

Because there are so many conditions that respond to topical treatments, it is beneficial to read the drug leaflet (or product packaging, if using over the counter treatments.)

The dermatologist will advise you of any risks or complications with topical treatment during your consultation.

There is a risk of transferring topical treatment to the eyes, nose or mouth, which can cause problems, so it is important to ensure this does not happen.

Common side-effects to topical treatments could include dryness and irritation. Inflammation could be a sign of an allergic reaction, so if this occurs, it is wise to discontinue use, and it may be necessary to report it to your dermatologist or your GP, especially if it is a prescription medication.

What is the Recovery Time and Outcome?

The duration and success of topical treatment depends on the condition being treated, and its severity.

The dermatologist will advise you about what you can expect from topical treatment during your consultation.

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