What Makes an Effective Shingles Cream?

Shingles is a form of herpes zoster infection that affects one side of the body. The most common symptoms include a painful burning or tingling sensation in one part of your body, followed by a skin rash that develops within three to five days and typically lasts about two weeks. One may experience intense pain that can be felt from even the gentlest touch or breeze. There may also be flu-like symptoms that include fever, chills, and a headache. Those who have shingles can experience complications such as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), where damaged nerve fibers send exaggerated messages of pain from your skin to your brain. It is a condition of persistent pain even after the rashes from shingles have faded, and it can typically last for months to years.

The virus which causes this condition belongs to the same family of viruses as those which cause chickenpox (varicella-zoster virus), and transmission of the virus usually occur via droplets, aerosol, direct contact, or by touching contaminated items (World Health Organization, 2014) such as dressings, sheets or clothes soiled with discharge from a person who has either chickenpox or shingles.

Shingles cream should help alleviate some symptoms by providing relief from pain and itchiness while also reducing inflammation caused by the virus. While many shingles creams on the market claim to be effective, it is hard to determine if they actually work. So what makes an effective shingles cream? Continue reading to find out!

Antiviral activity

Topical acyclovir can be obtained via prescription, and it can be prescribed to adults and children above 12 years of age. It can help to stop the growth of the viral infection. While it may not be a cure for shingles, it can help blisters heal faster, relieve painful symptoms of shingles rashes and prevent new blisters from forming. It can be applied every 3 to 4 hours (Zakhari, 2020). Antiviral treatment should be started as soon as possible, as it is most effective when started within 72 hours after the shingles rash appears. Therefore, if you suspect an outbreak of blisters might be shingles, see your doctor right away. After 72 hours have passed, antiviral medications may be less effective but may still be helpful if new blisters are appearing.


Calamine can be used on open lesions to reduce pain and itching. It can also dry out oozing skin irritations. It can be applied with a cotton ball or similar applicator and used as necessary. Calamine can also be used for reactions to poisonous plants, such as poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac, insect bites, chickenpox, swimmer’s itch, scabies, chigger bites, and minor burns (Frothingham, 2019).

Shingles creams may also contain antihistamines such as diphenhydramine which is anti-inflammatory and is said to be helpful against itching. Adults and children 2 years of age and older can apply diphenhydramine creams to the affected area not more than 3 to 4 times daily. Natural ingredients in shingles cream that may provide itch relief include witch hazel, eucalyptus oil, chamomile oil, and tea tree oil (Crichton-Stuart, 2018).

Pain relief/Numbing activity

An effective shingles cream may contain some lidocaine or capsaicin to relieve pain and itching by providing a numbing effect temporarily. For adults, this is usually applied 3 to 4 times a day. As can be derived from its name, capsaicin is a substance derived from chili peppers. It should be noted, especially for capsaicin-containing creams, that you should not let it get into your eyes because it can cause severe eye irritation. If the medicine does get in your eyes, wash the eyes with water and check with your doctor right away. Capsaicin may also cause a burning sensation if it gets on your face, scalp, or in your mouth. In such cases, you should wash these areas with warm soapy water (Mayo Clinic, 2021).

One should also note that medicated creams containing lidocaine or capsaicin should only be used for skin that is intact. This means that it should be applied while the blisters from shingles are open and oozing. These creams can also help with postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).


What makes an effective shingles cream? Shingles creams should contain antiviral, anti-itch, pain relief, and numbing activities. Look at the active ingredients when you purchase shingles cream to check if the ingredients listed support the purported claims. However, it is also recommended that you consult a doctor or pharmacist before using any shingles cream to ensure that you are using the right medicine for your symptoms and to make sure that there are no drug interactions with existing medications you are on as it may negatively impact your body. It should also be noted that creams may not resolve your flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, and a headache, so that other medication may be needed as well. If you do not experience relief fo the symptoms of shingles, or if your symptoms worsen within a few days of using such shingles creams, it is advised that you check with your doctor or pharmacist as soon as possible.

Crichton-Stuart, C. (2018, June 14). 10 natural treatments and home remedies for shingles. Medical News Today

Frothingham, S. (2019, October 12). Calamine lotion uses: Benefits, application & potential side effects. Healthline. Retrieved September 12, 2021

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, February 1). Capsaicin (topical route) proper use. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved September 12, 2021

World Health Organization. (2014, April 30). Varicella. World Health Organization

Zakhari, R. (2020, May 10). Shingles Treatments and Medications. Retrieved September 12, 2021

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