Hydrocortisone is one of the most commonly used over-the-counter topical steroid creams.
Topical steroids are a form of corticosteroid medication that is available as a cream or ointment to be applied directly to the skin. Corticosteroids are primarily used to treat skin inflammation caused by conditions such as allergies, psoriasis, and eczema. They are considered effective in treating these conditions as they work in the same way as naturally occurring corticosteroids in the body, which are hormonal substances responsible for controlling inflammation and other immune system responses. The type of topical steroid prescribed typically varies depending on the severity of the condition, because different versions of the drug can vary widely in potency.
Topical steroids may be needed to treat itching or ash associated with poison ivy.
One of the mildest and most commonly used topical steroids is hydrocortisone. It can be prescribed by a doctor or purchased over-the-counter. Hydrocortisone cream is often recommended for treating itching or rash associated with insect bites, poison ivy, eczema, or allergic skin reactions due to contact with fragrances, dyes, metals, or other irritants. The product is generally recommended to be applied in a thin layer to affected areas as needed, up to four times a day, until symptoms subside; however, acne, redness, and lesions can occur as side effects.
Topical steroids are used to treat a number of different skin conditions.
If hydrocortisone is not effective in relieving symptoms, a higher potency topical steroid may be prescribed by a doctor. One of the most commonly prescribed moderately potent topical steroids is fluocinonide cream, which contains corticosteroids approximately 50 times more powerful than basic over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. Fluocinonide cream may be recommended for the treatment of extreme itching, redness, and thick patches of accumulated dry skin cells associated with skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. It is generally advised to be applied two to four times a day and tends to have the same potential side effects as the milder versions.
Topical corticosteroids can be used to relieve itchy, red rashes caused by eczema.
The more potent forms of topical steroids are generally only recommended for use for periods no longer than three weeks at a time. One type of highly potent topical steroid is betamethasone dipropionate, which can be used for severe cases of inflammation caused by conditions such as psoriasis or lupus. If applied too often or for long periods of time, highly potent corticosteroid medications can be absorbed through the skin, causing damage to internal organs. Higher concentration medications can cause skin damage, such as a tendency to bruise easily, extreme redness, and dilated blood vessels in the skin, so they can often only be recommended if lower concentration versions are not effective.