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What is Corticosteroid Cream?

Niki Acker
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a The Health Board editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By anon1002033 — On Aug 22, 2019

Dead Sea salt can work wonders. Try bathing in this regularly and also apply the salts daily - when need be. These skin conditions are a nightmare, but for me, I think the root cause is dietary triggers, and likely, stress. I notice when my digestion is poor, my skin breaks out, so there is an obvious link.

By anon330334 — On Apr 15, 2013

Can I use repivate cream for fever blisters?

By anon316842 — On Jan 30, 2013

Can you use corticosteroid cream (over the counter brand)for herpes eye infection? If not is there a cream for this use over the counter? Also, is there a antiviral cream to buy over the counter for this type infection?

By anon194569 — On Jul 08, 2011

I have a prickly heat vaginal rash and it tends to itch really bad and sometimes even gets really heated down there. I seriously don't know what to do. I've been using 'Monistat soothing care cream' but it only 'soothes' not treats nor heals. How can corticosteriod cream help this? Where can I purchase it and how much?

By anon140881 — On Jan 08, 2011

i would like to know if there was an over the counter corticosteroid that i could use for eczema. my eczema is around my lips and on the outer corner of my eyes. i was proscribed mometasone furoate but i lost my medication and i have to wait for a refill. It's very irritating and i need a temporary relief.

By anon112084 — On Sep 19, 2010

I would just like to ask if this Prednisolone Histacort (Topical Corticosteroid) can be used for the white spots on skin?

By CopperPipe — On Jul 22, 2010

It is important to only use hydrocortisone cream according to the directions on the box.

If you use it too much or too often, you can develop a resistance to the cream.

Then you start using a stronger, one, your body develops more resistance, the cycle starts again.

Besides, if your condition is so bad that you feel the need to overuse hydrocortisone cream, then you should be consulting your doctor about what's going on anyway!

By pharmchick78 — On Jul 22, 2010

@googlefanz -- As long as your condition remains reasonably mild -- which I'm assuming it is, since you're looking form something over the counter -- you can pretty much take your pick.

Any of the ones you find in the drugstore should do the trick.

However, if it gets worse, or lasts for more than a few days, do contact your doctor -- no sense in taking a risk.

By googlefanz — On Jul 22, 2010

Does anybody know a good over the counter corticosteroid cream? I've recently been having some wonky dermatitis, and am looking for relief!

By showered72 — On Jul 16, 2010

I've used corticosteroid cream for poison ivy. However, I've found that Calamine lotion is a much better option because it stops the itch more effectively and dries up the oozing from the poison rash on the skin.

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a The Health Board editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range...
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