Topical corticosteroids, which are more popularly known as steroid creams, are commonly used as a treatment for eczema. To be more specific, glucocorticosteroids (GCS) have been used to control inflammation since 1951.

What are Steroid Creams?

Corticosteroids are a class of steroids that are manufactured in the adrenal cortex. They can reduce itching and swelling. In fact, they are widely used as a topical drug for swollen skin. These topical steroids are made into cream or ointment form that you can easily apply into patches of eczema. Ointments, since they are greasy, are best applied when the eczema is very dry. When the eczema is oozing, creams are more appropriate to use. Steroid creams come in different types and uses.
For mild to moderate eczema, doctors usually prescribe the use of topical GCS. This medication comes in different forms such as ointments, lotions, foams, and creams. Topical GCS is classified according to potency, which ranges from less potent non-prescription to more potent prescription types.
Topical hydrocortisone is a low-potency GCS. It is available in both non-prescription and prescription types. It is used on body parts with sensitive skin like the skin folds and face. Prescription-only mid-potency GCSs, such as betamethasone dipropionate and flurandrenolide, are available in lotion form. They are appropriate for use on the torso. High-potency GCSs, which can be bought only with a doctor’s prescription, may be in cream, lotion or ointment form. Examples include clobetasol propionate and fluocinonide. Since they are of higher strength, they are meant to be used for only a short time of up to two weeks. They are appropriate for use on rashes on the palms and soles and for stubborn lesions.
In order to minimize the risk of harmful side effects, doctors prescribe the mildest forms of topical steroids as much as possible. When a high-potency GCS is considered, however, it is used only for a short time for sever cases. Milder GCSs are then used as maintenance. In general, higher-strength preparations are used for seven to ten days, while low to mid-potency steroid treatments are used for two to three weeks. Creams, ointments, lotions, and foams are usually applied onto the skin once to twice daily, depending on the age of the patient and the potency of the preparation.

Potential Side Effects of Steroid Creams

The most common side effect of steroid creams is the thinning of the skin, especially when they are used for a long time. Other side effects are as follows:
  1. Bursting of blood vessels underneath the skin
  2. Acne-like pustules
  3. Skin discoloration
  4. Stretch marks
  5. Skin infection
  6. Itching
  7. Easy bruising
  8. Reddening of the skin, similar to Rosacea
Mild steroid creams rarely result in side effects other than on the area where they are applied. The more potent steroid creams, on the other hand, get absorbed into the skin and in the body. They may thus cause side effects similar to what oral steroids may bring about, especially when used on large areas of the body for long periods of time. Possible side effects include an increased risk of osteoporosis as well as bone thinning.