Natural alternatives to topical hydrocortisone

Updated February 21, 2017

Topical hydrocortisone, an over-the-counter medication, comes in many forms, including ointment, liquid, gel, spray, cream and medicated towelettes. It relieves itching, redness, dryness, inflammation, irritation and rashes on skin, anal areas and scalp. It also helps with skin conditions caused by eczema, poison ivy, insect bites, poison oak, poison sumac, soap, detergent, cosmetic and jewellery. For those who prefer natural alternatives, some herbs prove to give similar results as topical hydrocortisone.

Witch Hazel

Witch hazel contains tannins and volatile oils which create a strong astringent effect. According to the University of Michigan, witch hazel strengthens veins and can treat inflammations such as eczema. In a double-blind trial, witch hazel ointment proved to be as effective as bufexamac for eczema. However, another study found witch hazel to be a mere placebo for eczema when compared to hydrocortisone. Witch hazel can be used as warm compresses, ointment or cream.


According to the New York University's Langone Medical Center, chamomile is used to treat skin disorders such as eczema, bedsores, skin inflammation and contact dermatitis. However, no reliable scientific evidence exists to support its medical benefits. One study found chamomile cream to be as effective as 0.25% hydrocortisone cream for eczema, but the study is unreliable because it did not involve a placebo group or a double-blind method. A double-blind trial found chamomile to be less effective in treating skin inflammations compared to hydrocortisone cream and witch hazel cream.


Since ancient times, people have been using calendula to treat wounds and inflammations. The active ingredient in calendula is unknown, but NYU's Langone Medical Center cites one theory that suggests volatile oils and xanthophylls to be responsible for its medical benefits. Although animal experiments indicate that calendula cream has healing effects, no reliable study supports the claim. A controlled trial found calendula to be more effective than a placebo, but it was not a double-blind study.

St. John's Wort

According to NYU's Langone Medical Center, St. John's wort treats depression and is purported to be effective against HIV. St. John's wort cream also works on skin conditions such as eczema. The University of Michigan reports one double-blind trial that found St. John's wort cream to work better than a placebo on eczema. The exact ingredients that provide the healing effects are unknown, but a constituent known as hyperforin might have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects.

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About the Author

Edriaan Koening began writing professionally in 2005, while studying toward her Bachelor of Arts in media and communications at the University of Melbourne. She has since written for several magazines and websites. Koening also holds a Master of Commerce in funds management and accounting from the University of New South Wales.