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Does Hydrocortisone Help Acne or Acne Scars?

A woman applies hydrocortisone cream to her acne and scars because she wants to know, “Does hydrocortisone help acne scars?”


Contrary to popular belief, acne isn’t just for teenagers and young adults! A quarter of all women and over 10% of all men will experience acne in their 40s — and with acne could come embarrassing acne scars.

In your quest for a viable solution, you may have heard of hydrocortisone, an ingredient making noise in the dermatology world. But does hydrocortisone help acne scars? Read on to find out!

What Is Hydrocortisone?

Hydrocortisone is a steroid — but don’t let that word scare you! It’s added as an ingredient in topical ointments to treat a variety of skin problems, including:

  • Itching
  • Bug bites
  • Poison ivy or poison oak
  • Eczema or psoriasis
  • Dermatitis 
  • Rashes and allergic skin reactions

In addition to itching, these skin conditions may cause swelling and even physical pain, a product of inflammation. Hydrocortisone works by calming down your skin’s inflammatory response.

Hydrocortisone ointments and creams are available either over-the-counter or through a prescription, the difference being the concentration of hydrocortisone. Over-the-counter products have concentrations from 0.1% to 1%, and prescription hydrocortisone cream can have a concentration of up to 2.5%.

Hydrocortisone creams often contain other soothing ingredients such as:

  • Aloe vera: Derived from an aloe vera plant, a type of succulent, aloe vera is a skin-soothing ingredient that heals burns and rashes. It can also improve skin tone, treat signs of premature aging, and heal breakouts.
  • Glycerin: Glycerin is an excellent addition to over-the-counter hydrocortisone products. Its moisture-retaining properties hydrate dry skin and lock in moisture, improving the skin’s natural barrier.
  • Moisturizers: Over-the-counter creams often include multiple moisturizing agents. Moisturizers help soothe dry skin and repair damage.

Creams, ointments, or lotions that contain hydrocortisone should never be used on cuts, scrapes, or burns.


Does Hydrocortisone Help Acne Scars?

Given all the positive effects of hydrocortisone cream, it makes sense to ask, “Does hydrocortisone help acne scars? Does it help acne at all?”

The answer depends on the type of acne you’re experiencing. When you think of an acne breakout, you probably picture red skin and tiny pustules, which are actually clogged pores. Inflammation is the root cause of these common acne complications. Even a small amount of hydrocortisone cream can reduce this inflammation, making pimples appear less red and less swollen.

Hydrocortisone cream is also an effective cosmetic fix for cystic acne. Cystic acne is different from a typical breakout, as it results in large, hard nodules deep in your skin. They are often painful and appear as swollen lumps — a classic case of inflammation, meaning hydrocortisone cream can offer some much-needed relief. It’s not a long-term fix for cystic acne, but it can definitely reduce the symptoms.

This simple cosmetic fix can keep you from picking at your skin or trying to pop pimples, leading to less scarring. This applies tenfold for cystic acne. If you attempt to break open cystic acne, it’s almost guaranteed to leave a nasty scar. The inflammation is deep under your skin, so even if you successfully “pop” the cystic acne, it’ll leave a painful, severe wound.

Using other treatment methods in tandem with hydrocortisone may help you achieve better results. For example, one study paired hydrocortisone with the ingredient benzoyl peroxide, which is effective at fighting acne breakouts but can be harsh on your skin. Adding hydrocortisone helped ease the harsh side effects of benzoyl peroxide, resulting in fewer breakouts with less irritation.

Are There Any Side Effects of Hydrocortisone?

Whenever you use a new product on your skin, always be aware of potential unwanted side effects. If you’ve never used a hydrocortisone-based product before, it’s possible to have an allergic reaction, either to the hydrocortisone itself or another active ingredient in the cream. Even if you’re not allergic, the product may be too harsh on your skin. This is especially true if you start applying it every day or multiple times a day without giving your skin time to acclimate.

Here are a few common side effects you may experience when using hydrocortisone:

  • Itchy, irritated skin
  • A burning sensation
  • An increase in swelling or redness
  • Scaly, crusty, or overly flaky skin
  • Blistering
  • Thin skin that bruises easily
  • A lighter skin color
  • Additional hair growth
  • Worse breakouts

If you experience any of these side effects, cut back on how often you use hydrocortisone. Your skin may need to acclimate at a slower pace. Stop using the hydrocortisone product if the side effects persist, interfere with activities of your everyday life, or cause worsening pain, and contact your doctor immediately.

Infographic: Does Hydrocortisone Help Acne or Acne Scars?

How To Use Hydrocortisone

So, does hydrocortisone help acne scars? It may — if you follow these steps:

  1. With clean hands, wash your face thoroughly using your favorite gentle cleanser. 
  2. Pat your skin dry with a clean cloth. Avoid rubbing the cloth over the active breakout.
  3. Once dry, put a pea-sized drop of hydrocortisone on your finger and carefully apply it to the pimple or cystic acne. Gently rub the cream into your skin until it absorbs. 
  4. Continue with your regular skin care routine. 

This simple process can significantly reduce the inflammation of active breakouts. Unless otherwise directed by your doctor, avoid using hydrocortisone products on your skin more than twice per day.



So, does hydrocortisone help acne scars? Does it help acne at all? 

The truth is no skin care treatment has simple answers or universal results. It’s all about trial and error until you find a routine that works for you. If over-the-counter products don't work, you may see more success with a prescription product, or you may need to try another active ingredient altogether.

If your skin is overly sensitive, common active ingredients may be too harsh. In this case, consider an alternate treatment option like blue light therapy. This option has virtually no unwanted side effects — and that’s good news for acne sufferers everywhere!

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