What Is Hydrocortisone? Does It Work For Acne?

Knowing the right dosage and usage of this medication will help you combat your acne safely.

Medically Reviewed by Dr. M. Khawar Nazir, MBBS
By Ramona Sinha, Certified Skin Care Coach

Acne vulgaris is a prevalent skin condition that may affect people of all ages. Unfortunately, since cystic, pustular, and nodular acne require medical assistance, most of us turn to questionable ingredients for spot treatment. One such ingredient is hydrocortisone. But, can you use hydrocortisone for acne?

This corticosteroid is not a traditional acne ointment. It is often used to relieve the itching, swelling, and irritation caused by skin issues like eczema, psoriasis, and insect bites (1). Although this synthetic cream does not cure acne, it can help to minimize pain and irritation. This article delves into how hydrocortisone may help with acne, its safety and hazards, and safer options. Keep scrolling!

What Is Hydrocortisone?

Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid and helps reduce inflammation. Cortisol is a steroid hormone and when it is used as a medication, it is called hydrocortisone. This mild 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 as well as other hormonal factors. 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 by your dermatologist.

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 after one week 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 day 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 dermatologist 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.
  • Drink a lot of water, eat fresh fruits and salads, and avoid high caloric, fried, processed foods.

Key Takeaways

  • Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid that aids in reducing inflammation reduction.
  • Hydrocortisone cream is not recommended as an acne treatment, though it can be used to relieve acne inflammation, redness, and pain.
  • Excessive or extended usage of hydrocortisone can result in burning, peeling, dryness, itching, irritation, swelling, scaling, and blistering.

Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid commonly used for treating itching and inflammation associated with skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Available as a pill, ointment, or injections, you can use hydrocortisone for acne in combination with acne medications. Exercise caution while using the hydrocortisone as over-exposure may result in swelling, redness, dryness, and itching. If you are unsure of using hydrocortisone, consult a doctor or opt for a safer alternative such as the application of ice cubes and oral pain medication for managing the symptoms of acne.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does hydrocortisone lighten skin?

Yes, topical corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone may help lighten skin (5). However, it is advisable to use it under the guidance of a skin care professional.

Is cortizone 10 the same as hydrocortisone?

Cortizone 10 is the name of an over-the-counter anti-itch brand that contains hydrocortisone, a chemical ingredient.

Does hydrocortisone affect sleep?

Yes, hydrocortisone may affect REM sleep (6). However, the study was conducted on oral hydrocortisone use and there is insufficient evidence regarding the effect of topical hydrocortisone on sleep.

Is hydrocortisone an antifungal?

No, hydrocortisone is not antifungal but it may sometimes be used in conjunction with antifungal creams.

Is hydrocortisone an antibiotic?

No, hydrocortisone is not antibiotic but it may be used with antibiotic ointments in some cases.


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  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
  5. Misuse of topical corticosteroids: A clinical study of adverse effects
  6. Effects of hydrocortisone on brain 5-HT function and sleep
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Ramona is an editor at StyleCraze. Prior to that, she authored over 200 articles on skin and hair care. She... more

Dr. M. Khawar Nazir

Dr. M. Khawar Nazir is the CEO of Boston Aesthetics Lahore, Pakistan. He earned his MBBS degree from Nishtar Medical... more