Benadryl Itch Relief Cream: Are you Itching to Know More?

Benadryl Itch Relief Cream: Are you Itching to Know More?

Benadryl Itch Relief Cream: Are you Itching to Know More?
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Skin allergic reactions such as sudden hives, rashes or severe itching from insect bites are not fun. Some skin reactions are harmless, but other times you may be looking for relief. You’re here because you stumbled upon Benadryl® itch cream, and you’re wondering if it really works. Read on to have all your questions answered:

What Is Benadryl Itch Cream?

Benadryl itch cream is a topical anti-itch cream manufactured by the company Johnson and Johnson. The main active ingredient of all of the Benadryl products are the same, but the formulations of each product are slightly different (they also have a topical itch stick and spray but to keep things simple, this article focuses on just the cream). In this article, we will concentrate on the Benadryl itch Cream in particular.

Benadryl Itch Cream

What Is The Main Ingredient in Benadryl?

The active ingredient in Benadryl Itch Cream is an antihistamine called diphenhydramine hydrochloride.

What Does Benadryl Itch Cream Help With?

Benadryl itch cream is commonly used to help quickly relieve allergy or insect bite symptoms such as itchiness, redness, and swelling1,2,3. According to the Benadryl® website, it can also be used for fast and effective relief of skin itch due to poison ivy or poison oak, minor skin irritations, and even mild sunburn1.

How Does Benadryl Itch Cream Work?

In order to understand how Benadryl works, you have to understand how an allergic reactions happens in your body. The main culprit causing allergic reactions is a substance in the body called histamine4.

How Does Histamine Affect The Body?

  1. When the body is exposed to an allergen (something that causes an allergic reaction), histamine is released.
  2. Histamine binds to specific sites (receptors) that are found in the blood vessels, lungs, skin, and throat4.
  3. This causes characteristic allergy symptoms such as breathing difficulties, sneezing, and itchiness5.

How Do Antihistamines Stop the Action of Histamine?

Diphenhydramine, the antihistamine in Benadryl:

  1. Blocks local histamine receptors so that histamine can no longer bind to these receptors to cause itching2,3,4.
  2. The topical version may also provide a local numbing effect, further contributing to local relief from itching2,3,6.
someone with itchy skin looking for relief

Does Benadryl Itch Cream Make You Tired?

One of the greatest advantages of Benadryl® Itch Cream over its oral counterparts is that topical diphenhydramine causes less side effects throughout the body.  Topical diphenhydramine acts locally (only to the area applied) and has very little absorption from the skin to the blood – so low that you can’t even measure it in the blood6! Since there just isn’t enough diphenhydramine to go around, it doesn’t bind to receptors around the body responsible for other side effects (such as drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, nausea, and nervousness)7, so these side effects do not occur with Benadryl® Itch Cream use.

Is Benadryl Itch Cream Good For Itchy Skin?

Experts compiled available evidence on topical antihistamines to treat itch (which included Benadryl®), finding 19 studies8; however, most of the studies had a poor design resulting in contradictory outcomes and inconsistent, inconclusive results8,9,10. Ultimately, results from  these studies suggested that other than topical doxepin (another product that can be used for itch), there was not enough evidence to support the use of other topical antihistamines, including diphenhydramine, for treating itching8.  Without reliable evidence from credible studies to back its use, support for recommending Benadryl® has only been from the personal experiences of prescribers and patients themselves9. Moreover, studies have also shown that the frequent use of topical diphenhydramine for itching, especially in adults and elderly patients, can also cause hypersensitivity reactions (reactions produced by the normal immune system)2,6.

Are There Any Side Effects with Bendaryl Cream?

You should not use the cream if you are allergic to the active ingredient (diphenhydramine) or any other components of the cream (alcohol, glycerin, povidone, tromethamine)11.

There aren’t any major safety concerns associated with this cream but some other cautions should be kept in mind. Side effects you may experience include developing a skin rash or hives, and experiencing increased sensitivity to the sunlight, which can lead to a sunburn11,12.  If you do apply the cream, make sure you are not taking any other diphenhydramine products at the same time, such as oral Benadryl® products for allergies11.  When applying the cream, apply it only to the skin and try to avoid the eyes, nose, ears, and mouth11,12.  Try to also limit cream application to the affected areas, and do not spread it over large regions of the body as this can increase absorption into the blood, which can cause side effects throughout the body11.  Studies have shown that the product may be acceptable for pregnant women11.  As for women who are nursing, it is unknown if the topical product is actually excreted into the breast milk or not.  Nevertheless, pregnant and/or nursing women should consult with a doctor before using any over-the-counter products.

Is Benadryl Cream Safe for Babies?

It should not be used on premature infants, children less than 2 years old, or on chicken pox or measles12.

The Bottom Line

Although topical antihistamines are widely available and frequently used, there is a lack of evidence from credible studies to fully support topical diphenhydramine as being effective in relieving itching. It is important to keep in mind that topical antihistamines do have fewer side effects than oral antihistamines.

Where Can You Buy Benadryl Itch Cream in Canada?

Benadryl Itch Cream is also not very expensive (approximately $13.59 for a 30g tube13) so if you do get hit by a sudden itch, perhaps you may want to try  topical Benadryl® if it’s a small area and don’t want the side effects of the oral antihistamines.



Alyssa Aco, Vivian Eng, Amanda Ngo, Sunny Ngo, Kayla Wong, BSc. Pharm Candidate(s)

Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences

University of Alberta

Edited and Reviewed by the Health Aisle Team 


1. Benadryl®. (2013, July). Benadryl® Itch Cream. Retrieved from
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