Calamine lotion is a combination of zinc oxide and ferric oxide and is produced by adding other ingredients like phenol and calcium hydroxide. It is on the 19th edition of the Model List of Essential Medicines issued by the World Health Organization. It is primarily used to treat various forms of skin inflammation like itchiness, sunburns, infections, and wounds (1).
Calamine lotion is a basic, safe, effective, and cost-effective medicine. However, modern research claims that calamine might not be as effective on severe skin infections like chickenpox, shingles, etc. (2). Read on to find out how to use this formulation topically and learn more about the few rare cases of its reported side effects.
In This Article
What Is Calamine Lotion? How Does It Work?
Zinc oxide has anti-inflammatory properties, which further add to the benefits of calamine lotion.
What Are The Benefits Of Calamine Lotion?
Calamine lotion contains zinc, which is crucial for the maintenance and functioning of the skin. It may aid in relieving skin irritation, plant allergies, and infections.
1. May Treat Plant (Poison Ivy/Oak) Allergy
The rash caused by poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak is an allergic reaction to their sap. The clear or pale yellow sap escapes from damaged areas of the dead or alive plant and gets absorbed into your skin almost immediately (7), (8).
The affected areas start itching and turn red, swollen, and blistered. In severe cases, patients develop oozing or weeping sores (7).
To manage the rash, wash the affected area with cold water and soap within 30 minutes of contact. Cover the blisters with generous amounts of calamine lotion. The zinc oxide in this lotion relieves local inflammation, dryness, itching, and soreness (6), (7), (8).
If the infection persists and gets severe, your doctor can prescribe a stronger topical cream or oral steroids.
2. May Help Manage Acne
Studies have shown that topical and oral supplementation of zinc reduces the symptoms of acne vulgaris. Topical zinc could reduce the growth of Propionibacterium acnes strains due to its sebum-reducing and anti-inflammatory effects (6).
Calamine lotion is a zinc-rich formulation. It controls the production of histamines, compounds that flare inflammation. In a 2010 study, subjects who were treated with oral antibiotics in combination with calamine showed satisfactory results (9).
However, there is no evidence that shows a direct positive effect of calamine on acne (6).
3. May Heal Chickenpox Symptoms
Most of the treatment for chickenpox focuses on relieving the itching of the pox blisters and preventing broken blisters (as a result of scratching) from getting infected (11).
However, no studies have evaluated the effect of calamine lotion on itching associated with chickenpox (2).
4. Treats Diaper Rashes In Babies
This lotion has proven to soothe skin irritation and mild rashes. It is thus added to creams or ointments that are applied to diaper rashes in babies and infants. Calamine works by keeping the skin free of moisture and protects chafed and sensitive skin (12).
Change wet and soiled diapers promptly. Clean the diaper area and allow it to dry. Apply calamine lotion or cream liberally and as often as necessary with each diaper change. Follow this routine, especially at bedtime and when the diaper has been on for an extended period (12).
Some infants have sensitive skin or other underlying skin conditions. It is recommended that you consult a pediatrician before applying calamine or any medication on the baby. Also, if the rash persists even after a week, report it to the doctor (12).
5. Helps Manage Insect Bites, Hives, And Scabies
Working with bees, aphids, and bugs involve frequent insect bites that may lead to hives, scabies, and infection. Applying ice packs and calamine lotion can be an immediate solution to relieve itching and inflammation (13), (14).
Calamine may also offer temporary relief from spider bites. Scabies and stings/bites from fleas, mites, and chiggers can also be managed by applying it topically. But if pain, swelling, and redness persist, consult a healthcare provider (13), (15), (16).
6. May Provide Relief From Sunburns
Sunburns are often accompanied by acute itching and redness. Applying calamine lotion can relieve these primary symptoms. It may also moisturize and soothe the affected dry areas (8).
However, if the small blisters break, apply an antibiotic cream and not a moisturizing lotion like calamine. In case the rash gets worse, seek medical help (17).
7. Relieves Itching During Pregnancy
Around 1-8% of pregnant women experience uncontrollable itching in specific areas of their body, which may worsen at night. Hormonal changes may cause acute pruritus (itching). These changes may also impact pre-existing skin diseases or cause new pregnancy-induced skin conditions (18), (19).
Ideally, patients should be on bed-rest and a low-fat diet. Topical medications like calamine lotion, cooling agents, and emollients can be given under medical guidance. Any oral medication may have a direct effect on the newborn or the fetus, so only mild antihistamine drugs or steroids may be administered. They should only be given to augment the topical medication (18), (19).
8. May Help Manage Eczema And Psoriasis
The zinc oxide in calamine lotion plays a critical role in managing eczema and psoriasis. It is a potent anti-inflammatory agent that manages itching, dryness, and irritation caused by these skin conditions. Applying this lotion at bedtime has shown positive effects on itching (6), (20), (21).
Topically applied zinc oxide formulations also have intense antioxidant and antibacterial effects. They may restore the skin barrier function, lower free radical damage, and eliminate bacterial colonies in the affected areas (6).
However, there are no scientific trials that establish the direct effect of calamine lotion on psoriasis and eczema.
9. May Reduce Viral Warts And Shingles
Viruses cause most of warts you see on your skin and around nails. These viruses usually include human Papilloma Virus(HPV), Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), Herpes Zoster, and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Depending on the type of virus, warts can appear on your hands, feet, back, face, or genitals (6), (22).
The zinc derivatives in calamine formulation may eradicate warts and shingles, according to recent studies. Though research has not proven the action of calamine lotion in these cases yet, it is commonly used as a general relief medication (6), (22).
It is safe to consult your doctor before using any medication, especially if your genitals are affected.
10. May Lower Fungal Infection Symptoms
Fungal pathogens often cause skin infections characterized by itching. Athlete’s foot, jock itch, ringworm, Candida intertrigo, toenail fungal infection, and carbuncles are a few examples of such infections (23).
Soothing creams like calamine lotion or emollients can be applied to the infected area under medical supervision. Most fungal and yeast infections lead to secondary infections, especially when they are not treated completely (24).
Your healthcare provider may prescribe stronger oral and topical antifungal medication in such cases.
11. May Accelerate Wound And Ulcer Healing
The mineral zinc is vital for wound healing. It is critical for skin regeneration. Studies show that topical supplementation of zinc oxide is more effective than the oral regimen. Zinc oxide formulations can heal diabetic foot ulcers, burns, wounds, and blisters (6), (25).
They also have antimicrobial properties and, thus, prevent microbial infection of open wounds. Therefore, calamine and insoluble zinc oxide have been listed as mild antiseptics, astringents, and protective agents in superficial wound care(25).
With all these benefits, calamine lotion can be considered as a first-aid staple. Here’s how you use it.
How To Apply Calamine Lotion Safely
Note: Calamine lotion is for external use only. Do not swallow it. Do not use it on the eyes or on inside the mouth, nose, genital, or anal areas. Please proceed with medical consent only. Do not self-medicate.
- Before using, shake the bottle of calamine lotion well.
- Moisten a sterile cotton pad with the lotion.
- Gently dab the cotton pad on the affected area(s).
- Allow the lotion to dry on the skin. It may turn pale pink.
- If you are using calamine ointment, apply enough product to cover the affected area(s) and rub in gently.
- Close the lid and store the bottle away from your clothes. Calamine lotion can stain fabric when it dries.
- Store the medicine container at room temperature, away from heat, moisture, and direct light.
- Keep out of the reach of children.
Note: Wash your hands before and after using calamine. Put on hand gloves and a nose mask if you are working on large, infected, and oozing areas.
Is calamine entirely safe for topical use? Can it be used on adults as well as children? Check out the next section for answers.
What Are The Side Effects Of Calamine Lotion?
There are almost no proven adverse effects associated with the (excess) use of calamine lotion (3).
But, in rare cases, you may experience:
- Swelling around the calamine-treated area
- Hives on the tongue, throat, or face
If such symptoms persist, stop using calamine lotion immediately. Consult a healthcare provider, report your observations, and try an alternative medication (3).
Moreover, there is insufficient information about the safety of calamine for pregnant and nursing women and children/infants. Seek medical help before using it.
The medicinal properties of calamine were documented more than 3,000 years ago in the Ebers Papyrus and ancient Ayurvedic manuscripts. Various studies and case reports show how it can manage the symptoms of acute and chronic skin ailments, primarily, itching, pain, redness, and soreness (25). Talk to your healthcare provider about the safety and dosage of calamine lotion for you.
Also, please stick to calamine lotion and don’t use hydrocortisone cream (a purported equivalent to calamine lotion) on your blisters – as the cream might interfere with the healing of your blisters.
Talk to your healthcare provider about the safety and dosage of calamine lotion specifically for you.
- WHO Model List of Essential Medicines, WHO Model List of Essential Medicines (April 2015), World Health Organization.
- Does the use of calamine or antihistamine provide symptomatic relief from pruritus in children with varicella zoster infection?, Archives of Disease in Childhood, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Calamine (Topical Route), Drugs and Supplements, Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
- Calamine lotion to reduce skin irritation in children with cast immobilisation., Journal of Orthopedic Surgery, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Calamine, Compound Summary, PubChem, National Center for Biotechnology Information, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Zinc therapy in dermatology: A Review, Dermatology Research and Practice, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Skin Care, University Health Services, Princeton University, American College Health Association
- Summer Staple – Zinc Oxide, Center for Research on Ingredient Safety, Michigan State University.
- Oral Antibiotics in Acne Vulgaris: Therapeutic Response Over 5 Years, Malaysian Family Physician, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Chicken pox (Varicella), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
- Chickenpox (Varicella), Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.
- BABY ANTI MONKEY BUTT DIAPER RASH- zinc oxide, calamine cream, DAILYMED, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Skin Health in Agricultural Workers, Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.
- An approach to the patient with urticaria, Clinical & Experimental Immunology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Insect Bites, StatPearls [Internet], Bookshelf, NCBI, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Scabies, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.
- Sunburn, First aid, Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
- Pregnancy and Skin, Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in India, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- The Effect of Peppermint Oil on Symptomatic Treatment of Pruritus in Pregnant Women, Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Exacerbation of Skin Lesions in a 50 year old Man with Psoriasis during Treatment by Pegylated Interferon, Middle East Journal of Digestive Diseases, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis, ECZEMA, Student Affairs, The Pennsylvania State University
- Treating Shingles, Shingles (Herpes Zoster), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
- Infection, Pain, and Itch, Neuroscience Bulletin, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Skin conditions common to people with HIV infection or AIDS., AIDS Action, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Zinc in wound healing: Theoretical, experimental, and clinical aspects, Wound Repair and Regeneration, Academia.
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