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Steroid creams: Treatment for eczema and other conditions

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger HendersonReviewed on 13.10.2023 | 3 minutes read
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These are creams, ointments and lotions that contain steroids. Topical steroids work by reducing inflammation in the skin. They come in varying potencies (strengths). We will go through when you will use a steroid cream and its side effects.

Doctor’s advice

Uses of steroid creams

Steroid creams are used for a range of inflammatory skin conditions. We will run through the most common uses:

Eczema (Dermatitis)

Steroid creams are frequently prescribed to manage the inflammation, redness, and itching associated with eczema, including, but not limited to Dyshidrotic, baby eczema. They help to alleviate symptoms during flare-ups and are often used in combination with emollients to maintain skin hydration.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition characterised by the rapid buildup of skin cells, leading to red, scaly patches. Steroid creams can be applied to reduce inflammation and relieve itching in localised areas affected by psoriasis.

Contact Dermatitis

Whether caused by irritants or allergens, contact dermatitis results in skin inflammation. Topical corticosteroids can help alleviate the symptoms by reducing inflammation and soothing the affected skin.

Allergic Reactions

Steroid creams are sometimes used to manage skin reactions caused by allergies, such as hives (urticaria). They can help reduce itching and inflammation associated with allergic skin conditions.

Insect Bites or Stings

Steroid creams may be recommended to reduce swelling and itching in localised reactions to insect bites or stings. However, they must be used cautiously and only as directed by a healthcare professional. Anthisan is a specialised formulation of steroid cream which is for relieving the symptoms of itching.

Pruritus (Itching)

Steroid creams can be prescribed to relieve severe itching associated with various skin conditions, helping to improve the overall comfort of individuals with these symptoms.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrhoeic dermatitis is a common skin condition, which affects areas rich in oil glands, such as the scalp and face, can be managed with steroid creams to reduce inflammation and control symptoms.

Steroid cream side effects

Main side effects include thinning of the skin if used for prolonged periods. Some people can even experience stretch marks, bruising, enlarged blood vessels, localised increased hair thickness and length. If a steroid cream is used on a skin condition that doesn’t warrant use of a steroid, it can aggravate the skin condition.

How are they applied?

Typically topical steroids can be prescribed for a period of 7-14 days, thinly to the skin twice a day before taking a break and assessing the response. They are best applied a few minutes after an emollient.

If the rash hasn't cleared after 7-14 days, or your skin becomes broken or blistered it is advised to book an appointment with your doctor to review the effectiveness of the medications and see if any alternatives can be added or tried.

What can be bought over the counter

The only ones that can be bought over the counter are hydrocortisone 1% and clobetasone 0.5% (Eumovate) but only in quantities of 15g. All the other ones have to be prescribed by a healthcare professional.

Steroid ladder

Health care professionals use a steroid ladder for prescribing creams to patients, often starting with the mildest steroid before moving on to the next one up the ladder. Steroids are commonly classed on a scale from mild, moderate, potent, and very potent. Depending on the severity of your skin condition, your doctor may decide to start higher than the lowest level of steroid potency.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 13.10.2023
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