There’s a cream, ointment or gel for everything – from insect bites, eczema and sweat-triggered summer skin infections, to persistent conditions such as canker sores and conjunctivitis.
The beauty of them is that they go to work immediately where it’s needed, “and since they don’t pass through the digestive system and liver — like oral tablets and liquids do — they cause less harm. ‘side effects,’ says Dr Faheem Latheef, a consultant dermatologist at Leeds NHS Hospitals Trust.
But with a varied offer and prices that vary enormously, how do you know what to choose?
We asked experts for their recommendations on the best over-the-counter remedies for common skin conditions.
Expert’s Pick (for the body): Hydromol Ointment, 125g, £6.50, boots.com
“Many people with eczema struggle to find an emollient that hydrates their skin enough to relieve itching and pain,” says Dr. Latheef, because most over-the-counter remedies aren’t formulated to treat these conditions. .
‘Dermatologists recommend ointments instead [which have a Vaseline-like consistency] because creams contain water and need preservatives to keep the water from “running out”, but these added extras can sometimes irritate the skin.
“Ointments, on the other hand, are oil-based and don’t contain water, so they don’t need those preservatives, but tend to be oilier and more suitable for use on the arms, legs and torso than on the face.
“Hydromol ointment is good value for money and effective against very dry skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.”
Expert Pick (for face): CeraVe Moisturizer, 454g, £12.80, boots.com
“In recent studies [sponsored by the maker]this has proven to be very effective in increasing skin hydration for at least 24 hours after just one application.
‘It contains three ceramides [fat molecules that form a key part of the skin barrier], and deploys Multi-Vesicular Emulsion, a slow-release technology developed by the manufacturer that gradually releases moisturizing ingredients over 24 hours rather than all at once like with conventional creams. It’s also fragrance-free, so less likely to irritate sensitive skin, and is non-comedogenic. [won’t clog pores].’
Expert Pick: Numark chloramphenicol 1% eye ointment, 4g, £3, doorsteppharmacy.com
“Chloramphenicol is an antibiotic that kills bacteria that cause eye infections like conjunctivitis,” says Sultan Dajani, a pharmacist in Hampshire.
‘Use the ointment version rather than the eye drops as the drops can be diluted by watery eyes making them less effective. The ointment won’t dilute the same way, but it will blur your vision for a short time.
“It’s also good for clearing styes and doesn’t need to be stored in the fridge like eye drops do, as the active ingredient stays stable at room temperature.
“Opt for a drugstore own brand – such as Numark – rather than a branded version, as it’s the same but costs £3 versus £5.99 for Optrex Infected Eye Ointment, for example.
“Use three to four times daily, reducing as your symptoms improve. You can buy it over-the-counter for adults and children aged two and over, but you’ll need a prescription for children under two.
Numark chloramphenicol 1% eye ointment
Expert Pick: Acnecide 5% Benzoyl Peroxide Gel, 30g, £6.59, chemist-4-u.com
“The best over-the-counter products for mild acne are those that contain 5% benzoyl peroxide, like Acnecide,” says Dr. Latheef. “Benzoyl peroxide kills bacteria that contribute to acne; it also removes excess oil and dead cells in clogged pores that bacteria feed on.
“And if you take certain acne antibiotics (like lymecycline, which is prescribed for moderate to severe acne) using a gel containing benzoyl peroxide in addition to those medications, that means more bacteria is destroyed, which which reduces the risk of antibiotic resistance.”
Acnecide 5% benzoyl peroxide gel
Choice of experts: Ibuleve Analgesic Gel 5%50g, £6.50, boots.com
“I often recommend this gel to patients,” says Tim Allardyce, physiotherapist at Surrey Physio.
“It contains 5% ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory. Ibuprofen tablets are not suitable for everyone, especially those with stomach ulcers [it irritates the stomach lining] or asthma [it can worsen symptoms]. And although you get a slightly lower dose in a gel because it has to penetrate the skin, you can at least rub it where you need it and it doesn’t need to be digested.
“There is also a 10% maximum resistance version, but start with the lowest resistance. You may not need the highest dose, although there is virtually no risk of side effects with a gel of either strength.
Ibuleve Analgesic Gel 5%
Cooling Gel for Chickenpox Relief Virasoothe
Expert Pick: Virasoothe Cooling Gel for Chicken Pox Relief, 75g, £9.50, boots.com
“It’s much better for treating chicken pox than the better known calamine lotion,” says Sultan Dajani.
“Calamine lotion dries on the skin causing itching and scratching which can lead to scarring. It also leaves a messy, chalky residue and needs to be reapplied several times a day.
“But Virasoothe is much more soothing because it contains glycerin, carbomer and sodium hydroxide – ingredients that draw moisture to the surface of the skin.
‘This soothing effect means less scratching [and potential scarring]. And the effects last up to eight hours.
Expert Pick: Flexitol Heel Balm, 112g, £9.49, superdrug.com
Flexitol Heel Balm
“Cracked heels can deepen into cracks if left untreated and are potentially a site for microorganisms to enter the body,” says Dr. Latheef.
‘Untreated, this can then cause skin infections such as cellulitis [a bacterial infection in the deeper layers of the skin]athlete’s foot due to a fungus, and warts or warts due to viruses.
“The risk of infection is higher if you have diabetes because the immune system is weaker and the blood circulation in the feet is often poor.
“As lack of moisture in the skin around the area is one of the most common reasons for cracked heels, using an effective moisturizer twice a day can help a lot.
“Flexitol Heel Balm contains 25% urea, which draws moisture from the air and locks it onto the skin.”
Expert Pick: Iglu Rapid Relief Gel Mouth Ulcer Treatment, 8g, £6.29, boots.com
“Mouth ulcers can be caused by a weakened immune system, injuries and teeth grinding at night, as well as certain bacteria and food sensitivities,” says James Goolnik, dentist at Bow Lane Dental Group in London.
“They can appear inside the cheeks, on the lips, on the tongue and gums and, more rarely, on the roof of the mouth. Sometimes they form painful clusters.
Iglu gel contains an anesthetic, lidocaine hydrochloride, which numbs the area while the ulcer heals, along with aminoacridine hydrochloride, a disinfectant which kills offending bacteria, and paraffin wax, which forms a coating protector to keep food and bacteria out.
‘Try to avoid eating with the gel. It lasts about an hour and can be reapplied as needed. Iglu can be purchased over-the-counter for anyone over the age of seven, but see a doctor or dentist for any ulcer that does not heal in ten days.
Iglu Fast Relief Gel Mouth Ulcer Treatment
Stings and bites
Expert Pick: Anthisan Cream, 25g, £4.49, boots.com
“If you have a localized sting or an allergic reaction to a bite, it’s best to rub an antihistamine cream, like Anthisan, on the affected area,” says Sultan Dajani.
“It works immediately and contains an antihistamine called mepyramine maleate. Histamine is a chemical produced by the body and stored in cells called mast cells in almost every tissue in the body. When the body reacts to a foreign substance, such as a bite, the mast cells break down, releasing their stores of histamine – these produce the symptoms of an allergic reaction, including inflammation, redness and itching of the skin.
“Mepyramine stabilizes mast cells, preventing them from breaking down. Antihistamine pills aren’t very helpful if you’ve just been bitten because they take two or three days to work.
Expert Pick: Clotrimazole Cream 1%, 20g, £1.99, chemist-4-u.com
“It is effective in treating fungal skin infections including athlete’s foot, fungal diaper rash, and infections in the groin, armpits, or skin folds,” says Sultan Dajani.
“The active ingredient, clotrimazole, kills the fungal infection, relieving itching. Use for five days afterward to prevent any remaining spores from germinating.
“Save money by buying a drugstore brand like this – instead of a better known name like Canesten which costs around £3.49.”
Clotrimazole Cream 1%
Improve patient care through remote monitoring. This week: Mental health patients
A new credit card-sized tool has been developed to help remotely monitor mental health patients for heart problems caused by antipsychotic drugs.
Developed by AliveCor KardiaMobile, the device is a wearable electrocardiogram (ECG) – it allows healthcare professionals to take accurate readings of a patient’s heart rate without them needing to go to the hospital. The assessment, which can be done at their home, is also less intrusive and saves time.
Results are sent to the clinical team via Bluetooth to a mobile phone or tablet — the readings can then be analyzed to decide if a patient’s treatment should be changed. The device is currently being used in Yorkshire and the North East, reducing heart check delays.