How Long Does Hydrocortisone Cream Take To Work?

How Long Does Hydrocortisone Cream Take to Work?

Updated May 4, 2023

When it comes to the many virtues of those suffering from itch, patience should not have to be one of them. 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. This includes 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. They are 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 itch.

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

Corticosteroids 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. They can also 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. These include 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. It 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 generally treats more severe skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

Both cortisone and hydrocortisone are effective at treating inflammation and itch. 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 the condition also play a role.

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 starting to 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

Hydrocortisone cream is more likely to work quicker on mild conditions 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 relive the itch, only for it to be replaced with red, stinging and burning skin, are you that much better off?

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. This is similar to what 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.

    With 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 you're looking for relief without waiting for weeks or risking serious side effects, the best choice in treatment may not be a 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 uses natural ingredients to provide relief within minutes. All 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. 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. There are none of the potential side effects that come with prolonged steroid use. Nor is there the prospect of topical steroid withdrawal syndrome (TSW). 
    The ingredients in Dermeleve have been proven effective in clinical studies. Plus, 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. Each 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

    If you're looking for safe and effective relief from itching, hydrocortisone cream might not be the best choice. Dermeleve's may be the answer for you.

    Hydrocortisone cream can provide relief for mild inflammatory skin conditions, such as itching and inflammation caused by eczema or other skin problems.

    However, it's crucial to consult your doctor or pharmacist before using it, especially if you have broken or infected skin, as side effects may occur.

    Hydrocortisone cream is available in different strengths and can be applied to the affected area of skin as directed by your doctor or pharmacist.

    The cream usually starts to work within a day, but significant improvements may take 1-2 weeks. If you do not see any improvements after this period, talk to your doctor about alternative treatments like Dermeleve itch relief cream.

    Remember to never use hydrocortisone cream for longer than prescribed, as long-term use may cause side effects like thinning skin, stretch marks, or discoloration.

    Always follow the directions on your prescription and consult your doctor if you experience any severe side effects.

    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!


    Q: What is hydrocortisone cream used for? 

    A: Hydrocortisone cream is a type of medicine used to treat skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis.

    Q: How does hydrocortisone cream work?

    A: Hydrocortisone is a steroid medication that works by reducing inflammation and swelling in the affected area. It also helps to relieve itching and redness.

    Q: Can I use hydrocortisone cream on broken skin?

    A: No, hydrocortisone cream should not be used on broken or infected skin as it can increase the risk of further infection or complications.

    Q: What are the most common side effects of hydrocortisone cream?

    A: Some of the most common side effects of hydrocortisone cream include burning, itching and irritation. They also include redness, dryness and peeling of the skin. If you experience any severe side effects such as an allergic reaction, seek medical help immediately.

    Q: Can I buy hydrocortisone cream over the counter?

    A: Yes, hydrocortisone cream is available as an over-the-counter medication in most pharmacies and drug stores. However, prescription-strength hydrocortisone cream is also available. This may be recommended by your doctor for more severe skin conditions.

    Q: How do I apply hydrocortisone cream?

    A: Apply a thin layer of hydrocortisone cream to the affected area and gently rub it in. It is important not to apply too much cream as this can increase the risk of side effects. Follow the instructions provided with the medication or as recommended by your doctor.

    Q: How long does hydrocortisone cream take to work?

    A: Hydrocortisone cream usually starts working within a few hours of application. However, it may take up to a week or more before you start to see significant improvement in your skin condition.

    Q: How much hydrocortisone cream should I use?

    A: The amount of cream or ointment you need to use will depend on the size of the affected area and your doctor's recommendations. It is important not to use too much cream or use it for longer than recommended by your doctor. A small amount of cream is preferable if using this medicine to treat eczema or similar skin condition. This is because some of the known hydrocortisone side effects can result in you damaging your skin

    Q: Is hydrocortisone cream safe to use?

    A: Hydrocortisone cream is generally safe to use when used as directed. However, there is a risk of side effects especially with prolonged use or use on large areas of the body. It is important to tell your doctor if you have any known allergies or medical conditions. Also tell them if you are taking any medications before using hydrocortisone cream. Again, while hydrocortisone can be used, it's important that it not be used for long periods of time unless your doctor has advised as such

    Q: Do I need a prescription to use hydrocortisone cream?

    A: No, hydrocortisone cream is available as an over-the-counter medication without a prescription. Prescription-strength hydrocortisone cream may be necessary for certain skin conditions. This can only be prescribed by your doctor.