Topical steroids are available as creams, lotions, gels and ointments; selection of an appropriate product can also provide good moisturization of the skin. The wide spectrum of potencies and bases allows these mediations to be used both effectively and safely while under the care of an experienced physician.
During flares, over-the-counter moisturizing preparations that include a topical corticosteroid (such as clobetasone butyrate and hydrocortisone) are helpful to control inflammation and restore the skin barrier. The intensive use of emollient-based products can reduce the need for topical steroids.
Long term use of topical corticosteroids can induce tachyphylaxis (tolerance to the vasoconstrictive action of topical corticosteroids). Adverse effects are uncommon when using mild to potent corticosteroids for less than three months, except when used on the face and neck, in intertriginous areas (skin folds), or under occlusion. However, very potent corticosteroids should not be used continuously for longer than three weeks. 2 If longer use of very potent corticosteroids is required, they should be gradually tapered to avoid rebound symptoms and then stopped for a period of at least one week after which treatment can be resumed. 2
Topical corticosteroids are available in a wide range of different strengths, from Class 1 (very strong) to Class 7 (very weak). Stronger corticosteroids are generally more effective in reducing moderate to severe symptoms, such as thick, chronic plaques, but are also more likely to cause side effects 2 . Lower strength corticosteroids are generally better for milder symptoms and for very sensitive areas of the body (such as the face or groin areas) and stronger strengths are better for areas with thicker skin (such as the knees and elbows).