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Finding the treatment that’s right for you

There are lots of medications out there to treat your atopic dermatitis and you’ve no doubt tried some of them already.

Research suggests that, for three out of five people living with moderate-to-severe AD, their condition is poorly managed which means they might not be getting the best medication to treat their condition1, or may need more information on how to use their current medications more effectively.

To begin with, there’s a number of factors to consider when identifying the treatment that will work best for you.

Perhaps the two most important are whether your AD is mild, moderate or severe and how well your current treatment is controlling your symptoms.

Three friends supporting each other but looking visibly worried as there is no cure yet

Although there is no cure right now, our understanding of AD, its causes, and the ways you can reduce its impact on your life is improving every day.

So, here's a quick breakdown of the various medications available for your AD to help improve your knowledge when discussing the different treatments with your dermatologist and working towards getting the long-term control you need.

Emollients and moisturisers

Creams applied directly to your skin.3,4 Emollients and moisturisers protect against moisture loss by providing a barrier that traps in water.4 This limits itchy, dry skin and reduces the risk of infection.4

  • Emollients and moisturisers can be applied regularly and generously throughout the day to hydrate dry skin3,5,6
  • They help to ease symptoms such as dry, itchy, or scaly skin5-7
  • You may use emollients alongside other treatments for your skin condition7,8
  • You should be able to pick up emollients and moisturisers at your local supermarket or pharmacy

Topical corticosteroids

A type of medicine available in different forms, including creams and ointments, applied to the skin to reduce the inflammation and irritation associated with AD.9

  • Topical corticosteroids have been used for over 60 years to reduce the severity of damaged skin, inflammation, and itching for adults and children9,10
  • They're available [on prescription and] in different strengths depending on the severity of your AD10
  • Typically, topical corticosteroids are applied directly to the affected area11
  • The most common side effect is a small burning sensation when applying the medicine.9 However, this usually improves once your skin gets used to the treatment9

If your skin isn’t hydrated enough, your doctor may recommend using a wet wrap before applying topical corticosteroids.10

This method uses two types of dressings. The first is moistened with warm water and then wrapped around the affected area.10 The second is left dry and wrapped around the first (e.g., a pyjama top).10

Talk to your doctor about how to prepare these before using the treatment.

Topical calcineurin inhibitors

Non-steroidal medicines that target your immune system to interfere with the production of the chemicals contributing to AD.12

  • Some TCIs have safety concerns so please speak to your doctor
  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors are available as an ointment or cream that is applied directly to the skin13
  • They can be applied to all parts of the body, including the neck and genitals, where topical corticosteroids may not be suitable3,13
  • Tingling or burning is a common side effect that can last about an hour, but the intensity and duration of this typically disappears within a few days of use3,13


Phototherapy uses different wavelengths of artificial ultraviolet (UV) light to help reduce itch and inflammation associated with AD.3,14

  • Phototherapy is used mainly to treat people with long-term, chronic itchiness and hardened lesions, rather than to reactively treat a flare-up3
  • Performed by a healthcare professional, this treatment may require regular trips to the clinic.3 The length of treatment can vary depending on the individual condition3,14
  • The most common side effects include sunburn and skin tenderness14
  • This treatment wouldn’t be prescribed if your condition appears to worsen during natural sunlight exposure3

Biologic agents

Biologic agents are processed in the body differently from oral medications and specifically target the underlying inflammation in the immune system that is associated with your AD signs and symptoms.8,15

  • Your dermatologist may prescribe this treatment if topical treatments alone aren’t effective in controlling your AD8
  • This treatment is given as an injection to stop the medicine from being broken down in your stomach so it can reach the immune system15,16
  • They can be used alone or in conjunction with topical treatments8
  • The most common side effects include injection site reactions, feelings of a cold, headaches, and conjunctivitis16

JAK inhibitors

Taken orally or topically, Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors reduce the activity of enzymes in the immune system (Janus kinases), which are involved in inflammation.17,18

  • JAK inhibitors may be prescribed if other topical treatments alone aren’t effective at controlling your AD17,18
  • They can be used alone or in conjunction with topical treatments18
  • The most common side effects of JAK inhibitors used to treat AD include increased ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, upper respiratory tract infections and headaches18
  • Check-ups and tests may be required to monitor your progress and ensure the treatment is not causing problems19


Immunosuppressants broadly inhibit or prevent activity in your immune system to reduce inflammation associated with AD.20

  • Typically taken orally for the treatment of AD, they suppress the immune system to help reduce signs and symptoms20
  • They’re generally taken for a short period of time before switching to other medications for long-term management20
  • There are many different immunosuppressant treatments with varying treatment plans and side effects for each drug8,20
  • Oral corticosteroids are a type of immunosuppressant that is only prescribed reactively to control a flare, as using for more than a month may lead to serious side effects, including infections20
  • Check-ups and tests may be required to monitor your progress and ensure the treatment is not causing problems8,20

Treatment Guide

This guide gives you the know-how you need to discuss treatments with your dermatologist.

Discover the guide

There are plenty of treatments out there. If you feel your AD is getting out of control, don't wait. Speak to a dermatologist about ways to achieve long-term control.

AD Glossary


Feeling lost in a sea of terminology? Our glossary can help you feel confident when you discuss your AD.

Expand your vocabulary


Atopic Dermatitis Control Tool

These 6 quick and simple questions can give a dermatologist an idea of how controlled your AD is.

Get started


Talking to your dermatologist

Making an appointment to see your dermatologist is important. And so is preparing for it.

Get ready


  1. Wei W et al. J Dermatol 2018;45:150-157.

  2. Bieber T. Ann Dermatol 2010;22:125-137.

  3. Wollenberg A et al. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol 2018;32:657-682.

  4. National Eczema Society. Emollients factsheet. Available at: Accessed: May 2021.

  5. Ring J et al. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol 2012;26:1045-1060.

  6. National Eczema Society. Emollients. Available at: Accessed: May 2021.

  7. NHS. Emollients. Available at: Accessed: August 2021.

  8. Wollenberg A et al. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol 2018;32:850-878.

  9. NHS. Topical corticosteroids. Available at: Accessed: May 2021.

  10. Eichenfield LF et al. J Am Acad Dermatol 2014;71:116-132.

  11. National Eczema Association. Tips for using topical corticosteroids. Available at: Accessed:May 2021.

  12. Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego. Topical calcineurin inhibitors. Available at: Accessed: May 2021.

  13. National Eczema Association. Prescription topicals. Available at: Accessed:May 2021.

  14. National Eczema Association. Prescription phototherapy. Available at: Accessed:May 2021.

  15. New R. Pharmaceutics 2021;13(1):1-21.

  16. Boguniewicz M et al. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2018;120(1):10-22.

  17. Rodrigues MA and Torres T. Eur Ann Allergy Clin Immunol 2020;52:45-48.

  18. European Medicines Agency. New oral treatment for moderate to severe atopic dermatitis. Available at: Accessed: May 2021.

  19. Nash P et al. Ann Rheum Dis 2020;0:1-17.

  20. National Eczema Association. Prescription oral. Available at: Accessed: May 2021.