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Medicated Shampoos and Lotions: What to Know

woman shopping for shampoo
By Frieda Wiley, PharmD, RPhAugust 02, 2019

Did you know that some shampoos, lotions, deodorants, body powders, and even hand sanitizers are actually classified as medications?

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell the difference between a medicated product and a “regular” one. Some of these products, such as medicated powders and creams for athlete’s foot or ringworm, are found closer to the pharmacy, making them easier to identify. Also, a dead giveaway is when the labels say something like “medicated powder” or “medicated lotion,” but other labels make it more difficult to discern.

If you’re in doubt, an easy way to tell is by checking the back of the label. If the label simply lists the ingredients, then the product is a personal care product or cosmetic. On the other hand, a big clue that your dandruff shampoo is actually a drug is that you’ll find a “Drug Facts Label” on the back of the bottle. The shampoo will still list the ingredients, but as with any over-the-counter drug, the ingredients will be separated by active and inactive ingredients.

If you’re thinking about purchasing a medicated product to get that dandruff or dry skin under control, your pharmacist can help you. A few questions you may consider asking:

  • What is the best way to apply this product? Should I apply it before or after my sunscreen, insect spray, etc.?
  • Will this product affect any other products I currently apply to my body?
  • How long will it take to see some results?
  • Is this product okay to use if my skin is sensitive?
  • What are some side effects of this product?

So the next time you go cruising the lotion aisle seeking a solution for those alligator feet, double-check the package for the Drug Facts label and talk to your pharmacist if you have questions.

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