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Why Does My Eczema Cream Sting?

There is nothing fair about eczema. It’s annoying. Sometimes, it’s painful. It’s capricious. Its only job is to make you miserable. And it lies.


Scratch! It demands. It’ll feel better if you do! You know better–you really do–but eczema can be very convincing. C’mon. One little scratch. You know you want to.


Eventually, you cave–and what happens then? The itch is even worse. Rude.


It tells you a long, hot shower would make everything better. And it does–for a few minutes. Almost as soon as you turn off the tap, though, the stinging returns. Your skin is drier than ever before.


Eczema flares are stressful–how could they not be? Yet stress is one of the most common triggers for eczema flares. Unfair.


There are treatments, though–creams to help the itching, redness, and dryness eczema causes. You find one you like. You prepare your skin according to the directions. You look in the mirror with a glimmer of hope as you open the bottle. Let the healing begin.


You rub it into your beleaguered skin, but instead of cool relief, it stings.



You were expecting comfort. You were expecting relief. Not stinging!


You could almost hear the eczema laughing. What gives?

You might wonder if your skin is just too sensitive for treatment–maybe you’re allergic to the cream? Or maybe, you think, the cream just isn’t what the marketing promised. Maybe you were too gullible.


If you’ve found yourself yelping after applying eczema cream, read on. We’ll explore what’s normal, what’s cause for concern, and what you can do to get the relief you’ve longed for.



Eczema Cream Stinging? It's A Common Occurrence


The first thing you should know is that you aren’t alone. You aren’t being oversensitive, and it’s not likely an issue of your skin being uniquely unhealthy. This is a common occurrence, especially with the first few applications.



eczema cream stinging on application




Stinging Is Part of The Healing Process



As paradoxical as it sounds, this is a normal part of healing. Your skin barrier is compromised, making it more vulnerable and sensitive. It’s also inflamed, with pro-inflammatory chemicals making your sensory nerves more responsive to painful stimuli.


You might also notice that your skin is red after applying your eczema cream; this is another sign of inflammation. Compounds released by innate immune system cells are acting on the capillaries (small, superficial blood vessels in the skin) to open them and increase blood flow to the area.


Some people notice that their skin peels when they start using eczema cream. This, too, is a sign of healing–your skin is repairing itself and sloughing off the damaged cells.

Stinging Is Temporary!


Great news. You have just started taking steps to heal your skin–and as it heals, the skin becomes less and less sensitive. The stinging sensation becomes more bearable day by day. You can expect the sting to subside completely within a week–this is because the skin barrier is repairing itself and the inflammation is being calmed.

Redness will also subside during this period. As the inflammation subsides and the skin becomes less sensitive, the blood vessels are less likely to dilate.
Peeling might take longer to resolve, but it shouldn’t last for more than two weeks.

Take Control of the Sting


You can’t magically speed up the healing process, but there are some things you can do to make it more bearable. Dr. Steve Harlan is a board-certified dermatologist and the creator of SmartLotion®, an innovative eczema cream that combines prebiotics with a safe amount (0.75%) of hydrocortisone. Here are some of his tips for dealing with that initial burn:


  • Apply SmartLotion® once a day for the first week; you can apply more frequently once the redness and stinging subside.

  • Spritz the affected area with water and moisturize before application. Dr. Harlan tells us that moisturizing is one of the most important parts of healing the skin during an eczema flare.

  • If stinging is too intense, apply SmartLotion® to the skin around the affected skin (not on it) for the first few days. This allows you to get some of the anti-inflammatory properties of the cream without putting it right on the most sensitive, reactive skin. After a few days, even the eczema lesions should tolerate the cream better.

  • Ice the area after application (up to 2 minutes). You should avoid putting ice directly on the skin, and you shouldn’t keep it on too long. Make an ice pack by putting ice in a plastic bag, wrapping it in a thin dish towel before placing it on the skin. Remove it after two minutes. Cool compresses are another option.

To sum Dr. Harlan’s advice up into steps:


  1. Spritz the area to be treated with water, just enough to lightly moisten it.
  2. Apply moisturizer
  3. Apply cream (and we really can’t say anything but good things about Dr. Harlan’s SmartLotion®): if the sting is too intense, apply it around the area, but not on it for the first few days).
  4. Put an ice pack wrapped in a dish towel over the treated skin.



Relax after applying eczema cream

What If You’re Suddenly Sensitive to a Cream You’ve Tolerated Before?


It happens. You’ve found the eczema cream that works for you, and you have treated multiple flares with it. Suddenly, though, your skin burns and flakes when you use it. Is eczema going to get the last laugh?

Sometimes, it’s a matter of seasonal sensitivity, but other factors could be at work as well. Dr. Harlan tells us that the first thing to do is to ensure that you’re using the gentlest products possible on your skin (he recommends Cetaphil®, Basis®, and Dove® bar soaps).You shouldn’t be scrubbing your skin, he says, or using abrasive “scrubs” sometimes sold as exfoliants.

He also has his patients apply SmartLotion® to unaffected skin on the inside of the forearm twice a day to look for signs of allergy. During that time, he has them apply moisturizer, followed by an ice pack, for two minutes.

After a couple of days, if there’s no sign of allergy or irritation on the inside of the forearm where the SmartLotion® has been applied, they can begin applying SmartLotion® directly to the eczema after moisturizing. They can finish with a cool compress or ice pack (remember to wrap it in a towel).

If the sensitivity persists, it’s time to discuss allergy patch-testing with your doctor. New allergies can develop, and you don’t want to continue using a product that your body is sensitive to. See a board-certified dermatologist to find an alternative.


Stinging Can Take Time To Subside


Healing takes time–just another way that eczema is unfair! But you’ve stared eczema in the eye. With a good moisturizer and an ice pack, you’ve got this. Happier, healthier skin is on the way. Eczema isn’t fair, but the last laugh is yours!




  Cee Van

  Medical Writer



HarlanMD Customer Support

Hi Nancy,
We are so sorry to hear that your daughter is suffering :-(

A lot of our customers use SmartLotion® for their children and have great success!

Dr. Harlan also recommends that anyone who wants to use SmartLotion® on their child do so under their pediatrician or dermatologist’s supervision. For information on how Dr. Harlan typically treats children and infant patients, please refer to our knowledgebase: https://help.harlanmd.com/category/v0a14c3jev-babies

For information about moisturizing please see the link below:


My 6 yr. Old granddaughter suffers with extreme flair ups mostly the back of her knees inside of elbows back of neck and under her eyes.
Is it safe for her to use this and if so, how often and for how long. Should she then also use some type of moisturizer along with it?

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