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What is Steroid Cream?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Steroid cream is a topical cream which is blended with steroids to treat skin problems. These creams are used to treat a variety of conditions, and they are available in both prescription and over the counter versions. Most commonly, steroid cream is recommended to treat a skin condition like eczema or a rash, with the steroids targeting the problem directly, as opposed to oral steroids, which must work their way through the body to the site.

The strength of a steroid cream depends both on the concentration of steroids used, and on the carrier oils used in the cream. Some oils encourage absorption, leading the skin to take up most of the steroids in the cream, while others may be less effective, causing the steroids to rub off, rather than entering the site. There are also several different types of steroids which can be used in a topical steroid to address specific issues.

Like other steroid products, steroid creams are meant for short term use, to address a specific problem. Steroids have a number of side effects, especially if used for an extensive period of time, and topical creams containing steroids can cause things like skin thinning, stretch marks, and discoloration. If a skin condition does not respond to steroids, the situation needs to be re-evaluated to determine the best course of action. Some studies have also linked a high use of steroid cream and steroids in general to cancer.

Steroids can ease itching, burning, and inflammation. Many skin conditions cause all of these symptoms, along with scaly skin and cracking. Using a steroid cream can target the cause of the skin condition, while also soothing the symptoms, to decrease healing time and increase patient comfort. Patients with eczema, for example, can use steroid-containing cream to promote healing and to reduce the amount of itching to cut down on scratching which can make the problem even worse.

If a steroid cream is purchased over the counter, the package should disclose the steroid used, and the strength, such as one percent hydrocortisone cream. Generally, the cream should not be used for more than a week, unless a doctor has specifically recommended an over the counter product for extended use. If the condition does not respond or grows worse, the over the counter cream should be discontinued, and an appointment should be made with a dermatologist, who can examine the site and prescribe a different medication or course of treatment.

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.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon349484 — On Sep 26, 2013

I have had severe hand eczema for two years and had every steroid going. Apple cider vinegar worked wonders for me, even though the consultant said keep putting steroids on? I don't think they want to go down that route as the vinegar would put a lot of companies out of business.

By anon330144 — On Apr 14, 2013

I have .05 percent betamethasone dipropionate tropical lotion. Are there things i shouldn't touch while using this? I use it on my hands for my eczema. For example, my lizard or hermit crabs?

By bagley79 — On Nov 01, 2012

Whenever I get a rash or some kind of minor skin irritation I usually look to buy a steroid cream. This take care of itching and inflammation faster than other creams I have tried. I don't think using them once in awhile like this would cause much harm.

When my sister had eczema she found a non-steroidal eczema cream to help her. I am not sure how this compared to the creams that had steroids in them, but I know she felt better about using this type of cream.

By julies — On Oct 31, 2012
It seems like at some point just about everything has some connection to cancer, and steroid creams are no exception. My mom has a history of eczema and has used steroid creams off and on for many years. This is the only thing she has found to help with the itching. I sure hope that by using the steroid creams to get relief that she hasn't increased her chances of getting cancer.
By andee — On Oct 31, 2012

My doctor prescribed a steroid treatment cream after I had a cyst removed from my neck. The area did not heal up like he hoped and I have a puffy, red scar there that doesn't look like it is going to heal up on its own.

I am supposed to apply the steroid cream every other night for 3 weeks, and then take 2 weeks off. He told me told not to use it more than that because it could affect the blood vessels there in my neck.

After reading about some of the side effects of using a steroid cream, I am glad this is just a temporary thing and that I don't have to use this for the long term. It seems like with all the medications there are side effects. It is nice to have something that takes care of the symptoms, but it also makes you worry about the potential side effects.

By Mykol — On Oct 30, 2012

@anon127203 -- I am not surprised that you had good results using apple cider vinegar to help with your eczema. I have never had eczema so have never used vinegar to treat it, but this product is good for many health issues.

When I am having heartburn, I swallow this 2-3 times a day and the heartburn disappears. I find it interesting the vinegar worked better for you than the steroid cream, and without all all the side effects.

By anon276221 — On Jun 22, 2012

Steroid cream has many side effects and this is why when you try to stop, the skin gets worse. It is called the "rebound phenomenon".

The skin gets addicted to the creams and you need stronger ones over time.

There are websites full of useful info about steroid addiction and how to overcome steroid rosacea and perioral dermatitis by quitting steroids for good.

By anon176665 — On May 16, 2011

I have psoriasis for years on both my shins and nothing I tried was able to remove it. Lately, I have been using betamethasone dipropionate .05% cream, and it has done wonders. The lesions have mostly cleared up after three weeks' use.

By delaco31 — On Dec 06, 2010

i didn't know so much about this topic. if you can help me with another issue. i had bought Phentermine, and i would like to know the public review about it.

By anon129058 — On Nov 22, 2010

i have a psoriasis and have used lots of different steroid creams and all of them have stripped the skin from the effected area leaving me in a lot more pain. i have also got very sensitive skin and bruise very easy i would recommend anything else just not steroid creams.

By anon127203 — On Nov 15, 2010

i agree wholeheartedly cmsmith 10 but what to do is i just stopped using the cream. And my eczema came back worse until i found a website where a young man had severe eczema and he swore by bragg vinegar three times a day in water and wipe the affected area. lo and behold, it is working no more steroids for me. good luck.

By anon117254 — On Oct 09, 2010

i used steroid cream when i had a skin problem but it leaves white spots on my skin and until now i still have it.

By ValleyFiah — On Jul 12, 2010

Testosterone cream was reportedly used by baseball players during the steroid era and is also a type of steroid cream. The cream was a combination of testosterone and epitestosterone. Steroid manufacturers would combine the two steroids to maintain testosterone and epitestosterone ratios in the player’s body, allowing them to beat testosterone ratio doping tests.

The amount of steroids present in testosterone cream is not sufficient to produce significant gains in your average person or athlete. They only give a slight edge to the doper, but in sports where the top prizes and salaries are worth millions of dollars, any edge can be worth the reward.

By cmsmith10 — On Jul 11, 2010

I used steroid cream for a long time because I had eczema. I just wanted to let everyone know that there can be side effects, even though it is just a cream. My skin started bruising easily and I had skin tears like a lot of elderly people have. I also developed stretch marks around the area that I used the cream the most.

The side effects really depend on the strength of the cream you are using. I used a high dosage cream for many years which added to my side effects.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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