How to give medicines: creams and ointments

This page provides advice on applying creams and ointments to your child's skin. Specific information about individual medicines is available on the Medicines Information pages.

This page explains how to apply creams and ointments. Read the information or watch the video all the way to the end before doing this for the first time.

Important things to know about creams and ointments

  • 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.

We have produced a step by step video to help with the application of creams and ointments to children, available to view here:

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 washing.

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. The creams/ ointments are not themselves a fire hazard, but they can easily transfer to clothes and other fabrics and dry out. A build-up of dried emollient on fabrics is a potential fire hazard.

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 read further information about individual medicines by searching (A-Z) on the Medicines Information pages on this website.