What are the best remedies for common skin complaints?

There is a cream, ointment or gel for everything – from insect stings, eczema and summer skin infections caused by sweating, to perennial complaints such as canker sores and conjunctivitis.

The beauty of it is that they go to work immediately where needed, “and because they don’t pass through the digestive system and liver — like oral tablets and liquids — they cause fewer side effects,” explains Dr Faheem Latheef, a consultant dermatologist at Leeds NHS Hospital Trust.

But how do you know what to choose, with a variety on offer and wildly varying prices?

We asked experts for their recommendations on the best over-the-counter remedies for common skin complaints.

Eczema/dry skin

Expert Pick (for body): Hydromol Ointment, 125g, £6.50, boots.com

Hydromol ointment

“Many people with eczema struggle to find an emollient that moisturizes their skin enough to reduce itchiness and pain,” says Dr. Latheef, because most over-the-counter remedies are not designed to deal with these conditions.

‘Dermatologists recommend ointments instead’ [which have a Vaseline-like consistency] because creams contain water and need preservatives to keep the water from “going off,” but these added extras can sometimes irritate the skin.

‘Ointments, on the other hand, are oil-based and contain no water, so these preservatives are not necessary, but are usually more oily and more suitable for use on the arms, legs and trunk than on the face.

‘Hydromol ointment is beneficial and effective against very dry skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.’

Expert’s Choice (for face): CeraVe Moisturizer, 454g, £12.80, boots.com

‘In recent studies’ [sponsored by the maker]This proved to be very effective in increasing skin hydration for at least 24 hours after a single application.

‘There are three ceramides in it’ [fat molecules that form a key part of the skin barrier], and uses multi-vesicular emulsion, a slow-release technology developed by the manufacturer that gradually releases the moisturizing ingredients over 24 hours instead of all at once as with conventional creams. It’s also fragrance-free, so it’s less likely to irritate sensitive skin and is non-comedogenic [won’t clog pores]†

Conjunctivitis

Expert’s Choice: Numark Chloramphenicol 1% Eye Ointment, 4g, £3, doorsteppharmacy.com

‘Chloramphenicol is an antibiotic that kills bacteria responsible for eye infections such as conjunctivitis,’ says Sultan Dajani, a pharmacist in Hampshire.

‘Use the ointment version instead of the eye drops, as drops can be diluted by watery eyes, making them less effective. The ointment will not dilute in the same way, but it will blur your vision for a short time.

‘It’s also good for clearing up styes and doesn’t need to be kept in the fridge like eye drops do, because the active ingredient remains stable at room temperature.

‘Opt for a pharmacy’s own brand – such as Numark – rather than a branded version as it’s the same but costs £3 compared to £5.99 for the likes of Optrex Infected Eye Ointment.

“Use three to four times a day, decreasing as your symptoms lessen. You can buy it without a prescription for adults and children two years and older, but for children under two you need a prescription.’

Numark chloramphenicol 1% eye ointment

Numark chloramphenicol 1% eye ointment

Acne

Expert’s Choice: Acnecid 5% Gel Benzoyl Peroxide, 30g, £6.59, chemist-4-u.com

“The best over-the-counter products for mild acne are those with 5 percent benzoyl peroxide, such as Acnecid,” says Dr. Latheef. ‘Benzoyl peroxide kills bacteria that contribute to acne; it also removes excess oil and dead cells in clogged pores that feed the bacteria.

“And if you take certain antibiotics for acne (such as lymecycline, prescribed for moderate to severe acne) taking a gel that contains benzoyl peroxide in addition to these drugs kills more bacteria, reducing the chance of antibiotic resistance.”

Acnecid 5% Gel Benzoyl Peroxide

Acnecid 5% Gel Benzoyl Peroxide

muscle strain

Expert choice: Ibuleve Pain Relief 5% Gel50g, £6.50, boots.com

“I often recommend this gel to patients,” says Tim Allardyce, physiotherapist at Surrey Physio.

‘It contains 5 percent ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory. Ibuprofen tablets are not suitable for everyone, especially those with stomach ulcers [it irritates the stomach lining] or asthma [it can worsen symptoms]† And although you get a slightly lower dose in a gel because it has to penetrate the skin, at least you can apply it where you need it and it doesn’t have to be digested.

There is also a version with a maximum strength of 10 percent, but start with the lower strength. You may not need the higher dose, although there is virtually no chance of side effects with a gel of both strengths.’

Ibuleve Pain Relief 5% Gel

Ibuleve Pain Relief 5% Gel

Virasoothe Chickenpox Cooling Gel

Virasoothe Chickenpox Cooling Gel

Itchy skin/chickenpox

Expert’s Pick: Virasoothe Chickenpox Cooling Gel, 75g, £9.50, boots.com

“This is much better for treating chickenpox than the better-known calamine lotion,” says Sultan Dajani.

‘Calamine lotion dries up on the skin and causes itching and scratching, which can lead to scarring. It also leaves a messy, chalky residue and needs to be reapplied several times a day.

‘But Virasoothe is much more soothing because it contains glycerin, carbomer and sodium hydroxide — ingredients that draw moisture to the skin’s surface.

‘This soothing effect means less scratching’ [and potential scarring]† And the effects last up to eight hours.’

cracked heels

Expert’s Pick: Flexitol Heel Balm, 112g, £9.49, superdrug.com

Flexitol heel balm

Flexitol heel balm

‘Cracked heels can deepen into fissures if left untreated and may be a place for microorganisms to enter the body,’ says Dr Latheef.

‘Untreated, it can cause skin infections such as cellulitis’ [a bacterial infection in the deeper layers of the skin]athlete’s foot due to fungus and warts or verrucas due to viruses.

“The risk of infection is higher if you have diabetes because the immune system is weaker and there is often poor circulation to the feet.

‘Since a lack of moisture in the skin around the area is one of the most common reasons for cracked heels, using an effective moisturizer twice a day can help immensely.

“Flexitol heel balm contains 25 percent urea, which attracts moisture from the air and traps the skin.”

mouth ulcers

Expert’s Choice: Iglu Quick Relief Gel Treatment for Mouth Ulcers, 8g, £6.29, boots.com

Mouth ulcers can be caused by a weakened immune system, injuries and teeth grinding at night, as well as certain bacteria and food sensitivities, says James Goolnik, a dentist at Bow Lane Dental Group in London.

‘They can appear in the cheeks, on the lips, on the tongue and gums and, more rarely, on the palate. Sometimes they form in painful clusters.

‘Iglu gel contains a numbing agent, lidocaine hydrochloride, which numbs the area while the ulcer heals, plus aminoacridine hydrochloride, a disinfectant that kills the bacteria responsible for it, and paraffin wax, which forms a protective layer to prevent food and bacteria from entering .

“Try not to eat with the gel on it. It lasts about an hour and can be reapplied if needed. Iglu can be bought over the counter for anyone over the age of seven, but seek medical or dental advice for an ulcer that doesn’t heal in ten days.”

Iglu rapid relief from the treatment of mouth ulcers with gel

Iglu rapid relief from the treatment of mouth ulcers with gel

Stings and bites

Expert’s Pick: Anthisan Cream, 25g, £4.49, boots.com

“If you get a local sting or allergic reaction to a bite, it’s best to apply an antihistamine cream, such as Anthisan, to the affected area,” says Sultan Dajani.

‘It works immediately and contains an antihistamine called mepyramine maleate. Histamine is a chemical produced by the body and stored in cells called mast cells in almost all tissues of the body. When the body reacts to a foreign substance, such as a sting, the mast cells break down, releasing their stores of histamines – these produce the symptoms of an allergic reaction, including inflammation, redness and itching of the skin.

‘Mepyramine stabilizes the mast cells, preventing them from breaking down. Antihistamines don’t really help if you’ve just been stung, because they take two or three days to take effect.’

Antisan cream

Antisan cream

fungal infections

Expert’s Choice: Clotrimazole 1% Cream, 20g, £1.99, chemist-4-u.com

‘This is effective in treating fungal infections of the skin, including athlete’s foot, diaper rash and infections of the groin, armpit or skin folds,’ says Sultan Dajani.

‘The active substance, clotrimazole, kills the fungal infection and relieves the itching. Then use for five days to prevent the remaining spores from germinating.

‘Save money by buying a pharmacy’s own brand like this one – rather than a more famous name like Canesten, which costs around £3.49.’

Clotrimazole 1% Cream

Clotrimazole 1% Cream

Remote health

Improving patient care through remote monitoring. This week: Psychiatric patients

A new credit card-sized tool has been developed to help psychiatric patients remotely monitor for heart problems caused by antipsychotics.

Developed by AliveCor KardiaMobile, the device is a wearable electrocardiogram (ECG) — it allows healthcare professionals to take accurate measurements of a patient’s heart rate without going to a hospital. The assessment, which can be done at their home, is also less intrusive and saves time.

The results are sent to the clinical team via Bluetooth to a mobile phone or tablet – the measurements can then be analyzed to decide if a patient’s treatment needs to be changed. The device is currently being used in Yorkshire and the North East, reducing delays in heart checks.

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