Corticosteroids for use on the skin

corticosteroids for use on the skin

What is a corticosteroid?

Corticosteroids are substances that act as an anti-inflammatory for the skin.  They also suppress the immune system so are helpful for allergic reactions.  Corticosteroids come in lotions, creams and ointments and vary greatly in strength.

Most people would be familiar with hydrocortisone as an over the counter low strength corticosteroid available from the Pharmacist.


What are corticosteroids used for?

Corticosteroid preparations are useful for flareups of eczema and psoriasis.

As a general rule corticosteroids should be applied in the lowest strength that is effective and for the shortest possible time.

This general rule has led to some people not using their prescribed corticosteroid enough and so they have not received the maximal benefit from it.  If in doubt speak with your Doctor or Pharmacist about the length of treatment that is right for you.


Corticosteroid use in children

Hydrocortisone is the agent of choice in children in most cases.  This is safe for children however care should be taken to only use the amount that has been prescribed and not use too much.  This is to minimise the amount that gets absorbed in to the blood stream and is usually only a concern if large areas of the body are being treated or if used for a long period.

It is unlikely that a child’s growth will be stunted from the use of corticosteroids on the skin if they are used appropriately.


Do corticosteroids thin the skin?

It is possible but unlikely that your skin will thin with the use of corticosteroids.  This effect has been seen in older patients, who have thinner skin to begin with, who have been using a strong corticosteroid for a long period of time.


Can corticosteroids change skin colour?

This is a question that has been asked from time to time.  It is usually the condition of eczema itself that causes changes in skin colour due to inflammation rather than the cream leading to skin colour change.


How can I make my corticosteroid work better?

Anyone who needs to use a corticosteroid should also be using a soap free wash a soap aggravates skin.

Moisturisers are also important and should be applied half an hour before a corticosteroid if possible.  When corticosteroids are not needed moisturisers should still be used to keep the skin in good condition.