What Is Hydrocortisone? Does It Work For Acne?

Written by Ramona Sinha

Acne vulgaris is a common skin problem affecting men and women of all ages. While hormonal and cystic acne needs medical attention, most of us often reach out for unsuspecting ingredients for the occasional spot treatment. One such ingredient is hydrocortisone. This corticosteroid is not a traditional acne ointment and is often used to relieve itching, swelling, and irritation caused by skin issues like eczema, psoriasis, and insect bites (1).

This topical steroid does not treat acne but may reduce inflammation and relieve discomfort. This article explores how hydrocortisone may work for acne, safety, and risks associated with it, and safer alternatives to this steroid. Keep scrolling.

What Is Hydrocortisone?

Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid and helps reduce inflammation. It closely resembles the hormone cortisol (stress hormone). This OTC steroid is mostly used for relieving itchy or irritated skin due to rashes and bug bites. Although it is often used to relieve acne, hydrocortisone is not a conventional acne medication as it does not affect the acne-causing bacteria. Then, how does it work? Scroll further to understand.

Hydrocortisone For Acne: Does It Work?

Hydrocortisone cream is not prescribed as an acne treatment. However, one may use it to reduce the inflammation, redness, and discomfort caused by acne. Like any topical corticosteroid, hydrocortisone has anti-inflammatory effects and can provide temporary relief by reducing inflammation.

Steroids like hydrocortisone work well with topical acne medication like benzoyl peroxide (2). However, when used alone, hydrocortisone may cause adverse effects. Here are some safety aspects to consider before using this topical steroid.

Is It Safe To Use Topical Hydrocortisone For  Acne?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves topical hydrocortisone as a prescription drug to treat inflammatory skin conditions (3). While topical corticosteroids may work well with acne medication, steroids often mask the infection and increase the risk of delayed diagnosis and treatment if used alone. The immunosuppressive effects of the corticosteroid may also increase the risk of developing persistent fungal infection (1).

Excessive or prolonged use of hydrocortisone may cause:

  • Burning sensation
  • Flaking and dryness
  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Swelling and scaling
  • Blistering

Improper use can also lead to atrophy, striae, rosacea, perioral dermatitis, acne, and purpura. Hypertrichosis, pigment alteration, delayed wound healing, and exacerbation of skin infections are less common side effects (4).

However, you can minimize the side effects by using hydrocortisone cream for acne in the prescribed manner.

The Right Way Of Using Topical Hydrocortisone For Acne

Hydrocortisone is available in many forms, including oral tablets, injections, and topical ointments. However, do not self-medicate and use topical steroids without consulting a dermatologist.

There is no standard dosage, and you must follow the doctor’s instructions. They may prescribe hydrocortisone as a part of combination therapy for acne.

  • Prescription Topical Cream Of 1% Strength

You may apply a thin layer of the cream to the affected area 2-3 times a day or as directed by the doctor. Stop using the product if you do not see any improvement within two weeks or experience any adverse effect.

  • OTC Topical Cream Of 0.5% Strength

You may apply a thin layer of the cream to affected areas 3-4 times a week or as prescribed by the doctor. Never use the product for more than a week at a stretch.

Avoid using hydrocortisone:

  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • On kids and infants (for diaper rash or other issues).
  • If you are on aspirin, anticoagulants, or birth control pills.
  • If you have a history of liver, kidney, or heart disease.

To avoid these side effects, you must use the steroid as recommended by the doctor and not longer than the recommended duration.

How Long Can You Use Hydrocortisone For Acne?

Do not use hydrocortisone for more than a week at a stretch. Avoid using it on your face unless the doctor prescribes it.

You may also consider these safer alternatives to soothe acne and pimples at home.

Safer Alternatives For Soothing Pimples At Home

  • Use Ice Cubes: If you experience swelling or irritation, applying an ice cube on the pimple for a few seconds. This will constrict the small blood vessels to reduce redness and swelling.
  • Use A Salicylic Acid-Based OTC Solution: Salicylic acid is used for treating mild to moderate acne. It is a safe alternative to clean the pores. You may also try a salicylic acid acne patch to reduce the redness and inflammation.
  • Take An Oral Pain Reliever: Oral medications like ibuprofen can help relieve pain and irritation. However, this will not treat your acne.

The Takeaway

Hydrocortisone is a quick fix for reducing swelling, redness, and irritation caused by acne. It cannot treat acne, and if used alone, this topical corticosteroid may worsen your condition. Before using it on active acne lesions, always talk to your doctor and use it in the recommended way to avoid side effects.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is hydrocortisone good for acne?

No. It may reduce swelling and irritation caused by acne, but it cannot treat it. Avoid using it unless prescribed by the doctor.

What happens if you use hydrocortisone on your face?

Excessive use of topical corticosteroids on your face can cause skin thinning, making it more sensitive and prone to scars and damage.

Can you put hydrocortisone on a popped pimple?

Yes. Hydrocortisone cream can reduce the pain and redness caused by popped pimples.


Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

    1. Hydrocortisone for skin
    2. Benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of acne vulgaris: a double-blind, multi-centre comparative study of ‘Quinoderm’ cream and‘Quinoderm’ cream with hydrocortisone versus their base vehicle alone and a benzoyl peroxide only gel preparation
    3. Drugs@FDA: FDA-Approved Drugs
    4. Side-effects of topical steroids: A long overdue revisit

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