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Steroid cream for eczema

Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 26.01.2023 | 2 min read

These are creams, ointments and lotions that contain steroids.  Topical steroids work by reducing inflammation in the skin.  They come in varying potencies (strengths). They are mainly used for skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.

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% but only in quantities of 15g. All the other ones have to be prescribed by a health care 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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