Topical steroid

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Topical steroids are the topical forms of corticosteroids. Topical steroids are the most commonly prescribed topical medications for the treatment of rash, eczema, and dermatitis. Topical steroids have anti-inflammatory properties and are classified based on their skin vasoconstrictive abilities.[1] There are numerous topical steroid products. All the preparations in each class have the same anti-inflammatory properties but essentially differ in base and price.

Side effects may occur from long-term topical steroid use.[2]

Medical uses[edit]

Weaker topical steroids are utilized for thin-skinned and sensitive areas, especially areas under occlusion, such as the armpit, groin, buttock crease, and breast folds. Weaker steroids are used on the face, eyelids, diaper area, perianal skin, and intertrigo of the groin or body folds. Moderate steroids are used for atopic dermatitis, nummular eczema, xerotic eczema, lichen sclerosis et atrophicus of the vulva, scabies (after scabiecide) and severe dermatitis. Strong steroids are used for psoriasis, lichen planus, discoid lupus, chapped feet, lichen simplex chronicus, severe poison ivy exposure, alopecia areata, nummular eczema, and severe atopic dermatitis in adults.[1]

To prevent tachyphylaxis, a topical steroid is often prescribed to be used on a week on, week off routine. Some recommend using the topical steroid for 3 consecutive days on, followed by 4 consecutive days off.[3] Long-term use of topical steroids can lead to secondary infection with fungus or bacteria (see tinea incognito), skin atrophy, telangiectasia (prominent blood vessels), skin bruising and fragility.[4]

The use of the finger tip unit may be helpful in guiding how much topical steroid is required to cover different areas of the body.

Adverse effects[edit]

Safety in pregnancy[edit]

A 2015 meta-analysis of observational studies of pregnancies found no association between mothers' use of topical steroids and type of delivery, APGAR score, birth defects, or prematurity.[10]

Classification systems[edit]

Seven-class System[edit]

The U.S. utilizes 7 classes, which are classified by their ability to constrict capillaries and cause skin blanching. Class I is the strongest, or superpotent. Class VII is the weakest and mildest.[11]

Class I[edit]

Very potent: up to 600 times stronger than hydrocortisone

Class II[edit]

Class III[edit]

Class IV[edit]

Class V[edit]

Class VI[edit]

Class VII[edit]

The weakest class of topical steroids. Has poor lipid permeability, and can not penetrate mucous membranes well.

Five-class System[edit]

Japan rates topical steroids from 1 to 5, with 1 being strongest.

Four-class System[edit]

Many countries, such as the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, recognize 4 classes.[12] In the United Kingdom and New Zealand I is the strongest, while in Continental Europe, class IV is regarded as the strongest.

Class IV (UK/NZ: class I)[edit]

Very potent (up to 600 times as potent as hydrocortisone)

Class III (UK/NZ: class II)[edit]

Potent (50–100 times as potent as hydrocortisone)

Class II (UK/NZ: class III)[edit]

Moderate (2–25 times as potent as hydrocortisone)

Class I (UK/NZ: class IV)[edit]


  • Hydrocortisone 0.5–2.5% (DermAid Cream/Soft Cream, DP Lotion-HC 1%, Skincalm, Lemnis Fatty Cream HC, Pimafucort Cream/Ointment)

Allergy associations[edit]

The highlighted steroids are often used in the screening of allergies to topical steroid and systemic steroids.[13] When one is allergic to one group, one is allergic to all steroids in that group.

Group A[edit]

Hydrocortisone, hydrocortisone acetate, cortisone acetate, tixocortol pivalate, prednisolone, methylprednisolone, and prednisone

Group B[edit]

Triamcinolone acetonide, triamcinolone alcohol, amcinonide, budesonide, desonide, fluocinonide, fluocinolone acetonide, and halcinonide

Group C[edit]

Betamethasone, betamethasone sodium phosphate, dexamethasone, dexamethasone sodium phosphate, and fluocortolone

Group D[edit]

Hydrocortisone 17-butyrate, hydrocortisone-17-valerate, alclometasone dipropionate, betamethasone valerate, betamethasone dipropionate, prednicarbate, clobetasone-17-butyrate, Clobetasol-17 propionate, fluocortolone caproate, fluocortolone pivalate, fluprednidene acetate, and mometasone furoate


Corticosteroids were first made available for general use around 1950.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Habif, Thomas P. (1990). Clinical dermatology: a color guide to diagnosis and therapy (2nd ed.). St. Louis: Mosby. p. 27. ISBN 0-8016-2465-7.
  2. ^ Coondoo, A; Phiske, M; Verma, S; Lahiri, K (2014). "Side effects of topical steroids: A long overdue revisit". Indian Dermatol Online J. 5 (4): 416–25. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.142483. PMC 4228634. PMID 25396122.
  3. ^ Recommendations from New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated on corticosteroids Archived 2016-07-08 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Habif, Thomas P. (1990). Clinical dermatology: a color guide to diagnosis and therapy (2nd ed.). St. Louis: Mosby. pp. 27–30. ISBN 0-8016-2465-7.
  5. ^ Fisher, DA (1995). "Adverse effects of topical corticosteroid use". West. J. Med. 162 (2): 123–6. PMC 1022645. PMID 7794369.
  6. ^ van der Linden MW, Penning-van Beest FJ, Nijsten T, Herings RM (2009). "Topical corticosteroids and the risk of diabetes mellitus: a nested case-control study in the Netherlands". Drug Saf. 32 (6): 527–37. doi:10.2165/00002018-200932060-00008. PMID 19459719. S2CID 38326748.
  7. ^ Lebreton, O.; Weber, M. (2011). "Complications ophtalmologiques des corticoïdes systémiques". La Revue de Médecine Interne. 32 (8): 506–512. doi:10.1016/j.revmed.2011.01.003. PMID 21330017.
  8. ^ Wolverton, Stephen E. (2001). Comprehensive Dermatologic Drug Therapy. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Company. pp. 562–3. ISBN 0-7216-7728-2.
  9. ^ Wolverton, Stephen E. (2001). Comprehensive Dermatologic Drug Therapy. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Company. p. 563. ISBN 0-7216-7728-2.
  10. ^ Chi, Ching-Chi; Wang, Shu-Hui; Wojnarowska, Fenella; Kirtschig, Gudula; Davies, Emily; Bennett, Cathy (2015-10-26). "Safety of topical corticosteroids in pregnancy". Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2015 (10): CD007346. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007346.pub3. ISSN 1465-1858. PMC 8558096. PMID 26497573. Archived from the original on 2020-08-15. Retrieved 2018-06-23.
  11. ^ Habif, Thomas P. (1990). Clinical dermatology: a color guide to diagnosis and therapy (2nd ed.). St. Louis: Mosby. p. Inside front cover. ISBN 0-8016-2465-7.
  12. ^ "Topical steroids (corticosteroid creams)". DermNet NZ. Archived from the original on 2016-07-25. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
  13. ^ Wolverton, Stephen E. (2001). Comprehensive Dermatologic Drug Therapy. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Company. p. 562. ISBN 0-7216-7728-2.
  14. ^ Rattner H (November 1955). "The status of corticosteroid therapy in dermatology". Calif Med. 83 (5): 331–5. PMC 1532588. PMID 13260925.