Corticosteroid cream is a topical anti-inflammatory drug used to treat a variety of skin disorders. Some versions, usually containing 0.5-2.5% of the active ingredient hydrocortisone, are available over the counter for the relief of rashes and other minor skin irritations. Prescription topical corticosteroids can be up to 600 times as powerful as hydrocortisone and is typically prescribed for eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, scabies, and extreme allergic rashes. This cream is not a cure for any condition, but helps to manage symptoms. It can also aid in the healing of temporary conditions as it reduces the desire to scratch the affected area.
Different strengths of corticosteroid cream are indicated for different areas of the body, as well as for different conditions. Only the weakest preparations may be used on sensitive areas like eyelids, facial skins, underarms, and the groin, while the strongest creams can only be used in limited areas, typically only on thick-skinned areas like the palms and soles of the feet or for very severe skin conditions. The skin absorbs the active drug in the cream, which is necessary for effective relief, but can result in serious side effects over time if an inappropriately strong corticosteroid is used. Eyelids absorb at a rate of 30%, for example, while the palms of the hands absorb at a rate of only 0.1%. It is important to choose the minimum effective strength of corticosteroid cream for your condition and to apply it thinly.
When using corticosteroid cream, first thoroughly wash and rinse the affected area, patting instead of rubbing dry. Apply the cream thinly and evenly, massaging gently until it is no longer visible. Make sure to wash your hands when you are done, unless you are applying the cream to your hands, and keep the lid on the container.
As with any drug, use corticosteroid cream according to your doctor's or pharmacists instructions or following the provided instructions on an over-the-counter package. Unless your doctor advises differently, do not apply the cream more than twice daily or use it under dressings. Make sure not to use it longer than needed or on healthy areas of the body.
If too much corticosteroid cream becomes absorbed through the skin, serious complications can result, including adrenal gland suppression and Cushing's syndrome. In adrenal gland suppression, the body stops manufacturing its own steroids, so the patient may become dependent on the drug. Cushing's syndrome causes symptoms including diabetes, high blood pressure, and muscle weakness. Local side effects are also possible due to misuse of corticosteroid cream. These can include skin atrophy, stretch marks, susceptibility to infection, allergy, easily bruised or injured skin, and enlarged blood vessels.