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How to give medicines: creams and ointments

This leaflet gives tips about how to apply creams and ointments to your child's skin. Leaflets on individual medicines are available to search on the Medicines for Children website.

This information has been written specifically for parents and carers about the use of medicines in children. Please read this leaflet carefully. Keep it somewhere safe so that you can read it again. This leaflet will explain how to apply creams and ointment to your child’s skin.You should read the information or watch the film all the way through to the end before giving the medicine for the first time.

Important things to know about creams and ointments

  • Throughout this leaflet we will refer to the products as creams but the information also applies to ointments as well.
  • The leaflet and the video will cover creams which contain active ingredients, as well as those which also contain moisturising creams which are called emollients. These active ingredients are things such as topical steroids, antibiotics or fungal treatments, and are often used in skin conditions such as eczema.

Before you give apply the cream or ointment

  • To administer this medicine, you will need the cream or the emollient, and a spoon or spatula to scoop out the cream if in a tub
  • Wash your hands with soap and hot water before starting, drying them thoroughly after

How to apply the cream or ointment

  • The first thing to do is check the label to make sure you know which cream you are about to apply. This is especially important if you have more than one cream.
  • For older children, you can explain what you are going to do, to help reassure them.
  • Take off the cap and squeeze the cream onto your finger tip
  • The amount you need will depend on the size of the area being treated. Use enough of the preparation to cover the area being treated with a thin layer of cream.
  • Apply the cream downwards in the direction of hair growth.
  • Always apply these types of cream before using a moisturiser or an emollient cream
  • Wash your hands again with soap and hot water, drying thoroughly.

Emollient creams

  • Emollients are moisturising treatments applied to the skin to reduce water loss and cover it with a protective film.
  • They are often used to help manage dry or scaly skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
  • Emollient creams and ointments tend to come in large tubes, tubs or pump dispensers. They should be applied frequently throughout the day to help keep the skin in good condition.
  • Apply the emollient to all areas of the skin, even if the skin is improving.
  • For emollients that come in tubes or pump dispensers apply the required amount directly to the skin.
  • For creams that come in tubs use a clean spoon or spatula to scoop out the cream.Do not put hands in the tub as this can spread infection.
  • If you are applying the cream to a hairy part of skin apply in the direction of hair growth.

Be aware of fire risks with emollients that contain paraffin

If you have any questions about this or are not sure about anything then ask your doctor, pharmacist or nurse for advice.

Medicines for Children is a partnership project of the national children’s charity WellChild, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and the Neonatal and Paediatric Pharmacists Group. You can find our information leaflets and more films about giving medicines to children on our website www.medicinesforchildren.org.uk.

Giving medicines

Medicines for children come in different forms. Tablets, caplets and liquid medicines are given orally (by mouth). There are medicines that are used in the eye, ear or nose, and inhalers for asthma medicines. Other medicines, such as suppositories or enemas, are given rectally (in the back passage, or bottom).

Watch videos and read leaflets to find out how to give your child different types of medicines.