How Long Does Hydrocortisone Cream Take To Work?

How Long Does Hydrocortisone Cream Take to Work?

Updated January 6, 2023

When it comes to the many virtues of those suffering from itch, patience should not have to be one of them. Unless you're currently suffering from a bad itch, it's almost impossible to articulate the extreme urgency one feels to rid themselves of the sensation.

The good news is that, for most itches, there are options for relief. One of the most popular and ubiquitous is the use of topical corticosteroid creams. These medications are available over the counter and provide relief for many kinds of itch; including poison ivy, insect bites, eczema, and more.

But what kind of relief are we talking about, and when will it get here???

Read on to learn more about how long it takes for topical steroids like hydrocortisone cream to work, and some of the risks involved with their use.

What are corticosteroids, and how do they work?

Corticosteroids are a type of steroid medication that is used to treat a variety of conditions, including eczema, allergies, and inflammatory skin conditions. They work by reducing the activity of the immune system, which often plays a critical role in these ailments.

Box of corticosteroids

When the immune system detects a potential threat, it releases a number of chemicals to fight off the intruder. This process often results in inflammation, which is the body's natural response to injury or infection. However, in some cases, the immune system can overreact and begin attacking healthy tissue. This can lead to chronic inflammation, which can be very painful and debilitating.

A man with inflammation of the shoulder

By reducing the activity of the immune system, corticosteroids can help reduce inflammation and provide relief from symptoms; most notably itch.

Are these topical steroids different from the steroids we hear about in sports scandals?

The corticosteroids we're discussing are not the same as anabolic steroids, which are sometimes used by athletes to increase muscle mass. Anabolic steroids work by mimicking the effects of testosterone, a hormone that plays an important role in muscle growth.

Topical steroids like hydrocortisone are not the same as anabolic steroids

Anabolic steroids are controversial because they can provide unfair advantages to athletes; as well as cause serious side effects. Some of the potential side effects of anabolic steroids include:

  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Aggressive behavior

Corticosteroids, on the other hand, do not have these same effects. However, there are still some risks involved with their use, which we will touch upon a bit later.

What are the Differences Between Hydrocortisone vs. Cortisone?

Corticosteroids come in a variety of different forms and mediums including creams, ointments, tablets, and injections. They can also be inhaled, taken as a powder, administered orally as a liquid, or applied directly to the skin. When used on skin, they are typically applied as a cream or ointment.

Topical steroids like hydrocortisone and cortisone come in a variety of creams and ointments

Corticosteroids are also separated into two different categories, hydrocortisone and cortisone:


Hydrocortisone is a low-potency corticosteroid that is typically used for the treatment of mild to moderate skin conditions. It is available over the counter in many countries; including the United States.


This is a high-potency corticosteroid that is usually only available by prescription. It is typically used for the treatment of more severe skin conditions; such as eczema, psoriasis, and other inflammatory disorders.

Both cortisone and hydrocortisone are effective at treating inflammation and itch; but because of its wide accessibility, hydrocortisone is the more popular choice for most people.

How Long Does Hydrocortisone Cream Take to Work?

The best relief in the world doesn't mean much in the moment it's needed if you have to wait weeks or even months to feel it. So, how long does hydrocortisone cream take to work?

The answer: it depends.

A woman with itchy hands.

The amount of time it takes for hydrocortisone cream to work will vary according to the individual, the strength of the medication, and the severity of their condition.

Hydrocortisone strength

Hydrocortisone cream comes in various strengths. Over-the-counter options are typically lower in strength (0.5% or 1%), while prescription options can be as high as 4%. The stronger the cream, the faster it is likely to work; but it will also come with a greater risk of side effects.

For most people, hydrocortisone cream can begin working within a day of application, no matter the strength. But startingto work, and actually seeing and feeling results are two different things. The majority of people start seeing significant improvement within one to two weeks. If you're not seeing improvements in that time period, most likely that particular cream won't be effective.

The severity of your condition

If you have a mild skin condition, such as occasional itch from seasonal allergies, hydrocortisone cream is more likely to work quicker than a more severe condition such as eczema or psoriasis. These ailments may take longer to see results; even with a higher-strength prescription cream.

What are the side effects of using hydrocortisone cream?

When all you can think about is your itch, it's easy to put the prospect of relief above any possible side effects. But it's important to be informed about the potential risks involved in using hydrocortisone cream before you start using it.

The most common side effect of hydrocortisone cream is skin irritation. This can manifest as burning, stinging, or redness at the site of application. This is quite a trade-off. If you relieve the itch, only for it to be replaced with red, stinging and burning skin, are you that much better off?

Believe it or not, burning, stinging and red skin are actually on the lower end of the spectrum of serious side effects from long-term corticosteroid use. If used for too long, or over a large area of the skin, corticosteroids can lead to:

  • Thinning skin: Skin becomes more fragile and tears more easily.
Thin skin is a side effect of prolonged topical steroid use.
  • Easy bruising: Because the skin is thinner, it bruises more easily.
Easy bruising is a side effect of prolonged topical steroid use.
  • Stretch marks: Prolonged use of corticosteroids can cause the skin to thin so much that stretch marks appear, similar to those that can occur during pregnancy.
Stretch marks can occur with the use of topical steroids like hydrocortisone and cortisone
  • Discoloration: The skin may develop a light brownish tinge.
Skin discolored from hydrocortisone use.
  • Acne: Long-term use of corticosteroids can cause acne.
Acne is a potential side effect of prolonged topical steroid use.
  • Increased hair growth: In women, corticosteroids can cause increased hair growth on the face and body.
Increased body hair growth is a side effect of prolonged topical steroid use.
  • Skin infections: With thinning of the skin, the risk of cuts or tearing and developing skin infections increases.
Skin infections can occur as a result of tearing or cuts exacerbated by thin skin caused by hydrocortisone and other topical steroids.

It's worth noting that for recommended and short-term use of topical steroids, the risks of these side effects are significantly lower than for longer-term use. But when the intended results of the medication can take so long to manifest, it's easy for it to be used longer than recommended.

If you experience any of the above serious side effects, it's important to stop using the cream and speak with your doctor.

Faster, Safer Relief

If your itch is particularly severe, or you're looking for relief without potentially waiting for weeks or risking serious side effects, the best choice in treatment may not be hydrocortisone or any other topical steroid.

In fact, one of the most effective topical solutions for near-instant and long-lasting itch relief doesn't use any steroids at all.

Dermeleve® itch relief cream is a topical solution that uses natural ingredients to provide relief from itching within minutes, without any of the risks associated with steroids.

Dermeleve tube and box. Stop wondering how long hydrocortisone takes to work. Dermeleve is steroid free, fast acting and long lasting. Get instant relief without the wait.

When applied to the affected area, the cream instantly goes to work to start relieving itch and soothe inflammation. Even better, a single application lasts for hours, allowing you to get on with your day or sleep through the night without the constant distraction of an itch.

Because Dermeleve is steroid free, it's safe to use as frequently as needed, and as long as desired, without any fear of the potential side effects that come with prolonged steroid use, nor the prospect of topical steroid withdrawal syndrome(TSW).

The ingredients in Dermeleve have been proven effective in clinical studies. And because they're natural, there are no risks of serious side effects, such as those associated with hydrocortisone or other steroid creams.

Dermeleve contains shea butter, ceramides, and essential vitamins; all of which protect, refresh and enhance the skin. Even better, Dermeleve is available without a prescription and can be shipped directly to you without the need for a trip to the pharmacy.

Wrap Up

So if you're looking for a safe and effective way to get relief from your itch without worrying about harmful side effects, hydrocortisone cream might not be the best choice. Dermeleve's may be the answer for you.

Talk to your doctor about Dermeleve®, or visit Dermeleve®'s website today to learn more.

For more information about how long hydrocortisone takes to work, be sure to check out our YouTube video!

Back to blog