Topical steroid: Types, uses, side effects and treatment, revealed by doctors

However, little do they know that these creams contain steroids in irrational quantities that can cause long-term damage to the skin.

Cosmetics medicine

Last Updated on June 16, 2022 by The Health Master

Topical steroid: Types, uses, side effects and treatment, revealed by doctors

Topical corticosteroids are steroid medicines that are applied directly to the skin to reduce inflammation, rashes and irritation and other skin conditions such as dermatitis/eczema, psoriasis, etc. but they are also one of the most abused drugs in India.

A mass population in India is obsessed with fairness and cosmetic creams to get that instant gratification from minor skin issues or are looking for that advertised glow of actresses and models they see on TVs. 

However, little do they know that these creams contain steroids in irrational quantities that can cause long-term damage to the skin.

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Nishita Ranka, dermatologist, Medical Director and Founder of Dr Nishita’a Clinic for Skin, Hair & Aesthetics, shared, “Steroids are man-made medicines, the same as or similar to certain naturally occurring hormones in the body.

The body produces steroids to support functions such as fighting stress and boosting growth and development.”


According to Dr Nishita Ranka, there are three types of synthetic steroids – topical, oral and injections – where topical corticosteroidsh come in creams, lotions, gels and ointments solutions that have been used for more than six decades as an effective medication.

Dr Sushma Yadav, Dermatologist, Cosmetologist, Hair Transplant Surgeon and Founder of Skinology Centre in Bangalore, elaborated, “There are many topical steroids available, like creams and ointments, nasal spray, nose drops.”


Dr Sushma Yadav said, “Topical steroids can be used to treat problems with the skin, nose, eyes, ear, gut and lungs (if inhalers are included as topical steroids).

How often are they used will depend upon the condition you have and how severe it is but mostly in cases such as eczema or psoriasis, they are applied once or twice a day in the form of creams or ointments.”

Dr Nishita Ranka added, “They are used to treat a wide range of skin conditions, including eczema, contact dermatitis, psoriasis, vitiligo, etc.”

Timeline of treatment:

Most doctors prefer to prescribe topical steroids for as short a period of time as possible because of their side effects but again, it depends on the severity of the problem hence, It may vary from patient to patient.

Dr Sushma Yadav said, “They are misused for treatments of acne, pigmentation, fungal infection, pruritus, and many times as a cosmetic or skin cream for any type of rash. The main reason for such misuse in our country is the easy availability of over-the-counter (OTC) medications, false marketing and lack of regulation in the pharma and beauty industry.”

Side effects:

Dr Nishita Ranka cautioned, “Topical corticosteroids turn down the immune system processes that trigger inflammation. Corticosteroids should only be used on the skin for a short period and under the supervision of a doctor, ideally a dermatologist, because long-term use can lead to severe skin damage.

Side effects include acne, dryness, skin thinning, facial rash in which bumps develop around the mouth (perioral dermatitis), modified fungal infections like tinea incognito, pigmentation, excess facial hair growth (hirsutism), and photosensitivity (reactions to sunlight, caused by an immune reaction to ultraviolet rays).”

She pointed out, “If you use a steroid cream for a long time and it is difficult to stop using it because you get symptoms like acne breakouts, red skin, and rashes, visit a registered dermatologist ASAP.

This misuse of the drug often results in steroid-dependent skin. Once the skin is addicted to steroids, it is hard to stop using them without proper medical treatments. Or it may lead to irreversible side effects in the future if continued.”

Echoing the same Dr Sushma Yadav said, “The common side effects of using topical corticosteroids are acne, pigmentation, redness, itching, burning sensation, striae, and aggravation of existing skin problems.

The nature of side effects correlated with the duration of the usage of topical steroids. Therefore, abusing these steroids can seriously harm your skin permanently.”

Topical corticosteroids must only be used if your doctor has prescribed them to you. So stay away from fairness and cosmetic creams, they do more harm than good.

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