Eczema (also known as dermatitis) is a very common skin condition that affects as many as one of every five children (with slightly lower rates in adults). Although it can be painful and irritating, there are now many different eczema treatments that can be used to reduce inflammation and irritation, such as topical steroid cream.
On this page, we’ll be looking at the different types of topical steroid creams available, and their strengths. Read on for everything you need to know about the most suitable topical steroid creams for your eczema and other skin conditions.
What are topical steroid creams for eczema?
Topical steroid creams, also known as topical corticosteroids, are medical treatments for eczema. They are used to control the symptoms of severe eczema, as well as other inflammatory skin conditions when they flare up.
The term topical corticosteroid refers to steroid medicine that can be applied to affected areas to reduce inflamed skin. These medications are topical, which means they are applied to the skin on the affected area. Once applied, they can reduce inflammation, redness, irritation, and other symptoms associated with flare-ups of various skin conditions such as eczema. They can often be used to treat different conditions simultaneously, see our guide on treating eczema and psoriasis.
Topical corticosteroids can also refer to lotions, gels, and ointments that all work to treat dermatological issues — rather than corticosteroids that are taken orally (such as tablets, capsules, or inhalers).
Here are the most common forms of topical corticosteroids:
- Lotions (like Elocon, which treats discomfort on the scalp)
There are varying types and strengths of topical steroid creams. The most suitable topical cream for you will depend on the severity of your symptoms, and where on the body you are affected. For example, when looking to treat eczema on your face, milder creams are recommended. Milder creams will also be recommended when treating more sensitive areas of the body, while stronger creams are suggested for thicker skin (such as your hands or feet).
Higher-strength topical steroid creams usually have to be prescribed by a doctor or healthcare professional, but there are some milder types that you can buy over the counter from pharmacies -- we’ll talk about this in the section below on ‘different types of steroid creams and their strengths’.
How do topical steroid creams work?
Topical steroid creams are anti-inflammatory medicines which means they reduce redness and inflammation caused by eczema and other skin conditions.
When your body suffers from an allergic reaction or irritation (as is the case with eczema or contact dermatitis), it releases inflammatory chemicals in response. These chemicals make blood vessels widen and cause the skin to become inflamed, swollen, and itchy. This can lead to your skin feeling very dry and painful, as well as looking red and irritated.
Topical steroid creams inhibit the body’s natural response by preventing cells from releasing large amounts of these inflammatory chemicals. This makes topical steroid creams one of the most effective ways to help treat and control the symptoms of eczema and other skin problems.
Topical corticosteroids rarely pose a large risk of side effects, but this depends on the strength of the use of topical steroids in question. After all, more potent topical corticosteroids are more likely to have adverse effects like burning or stinging on certain areas of the skin.
Here are the most common side effects associated with topical corticosteroids:
- Stretch marks, which are often permanent
- Acne rosacea, which is a condition causing flushed reddening of the face
- Perioral dermatitis, which affects the mouth
Side effects are most common in the elderly and very young children -- or if you use topical steroid creams for long periods. These topical steroids can also spread the infection further from the affected areas of the body. However, rare side effects can include withdrawal, glaucoma, and cataracts.
If you’re worried about the side effects, read the patient information leaflet for further information.
What is topical steroid cream used for?
Because of their anti-inflammatory properties, topical steroid creams are typically used to relieve symptoms and suppress signs of eczema. They are applied once or twice daily for courses of 7 - 14 days (depending on the treatment used). This should be enough to relieve symptoms of redness and inflammation and allow a regular moisturising regime to keep further symptoms controlled.
Eczema — the collective term for a group of skin ailments that give the sufferer patches of red, itchy skin and dry rashes — is a skin disease that affects approximately 15 million people in the UK alone.
Topical steroid creams are widely used to treat various forms of eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis. However, there are other skin conditions or issues that can be treated with topical steroid cream. This includes:
- Psoriasis (a skin condition where skin cells grow too quickly, causing the production of dry, flaky patches of skin covered in white or silvery scales)
- Seborrhoeic dermatitis (a condition that affects the scalp and face, causing dandruff and rough, scaly patches of skin)
- Lichen planus (a condition that causes a non-infectious but itchy rash)
- Discoid lupus erythematosus (a chronic autoimmune disease affecting the skin and causing coin-shaped lesions)
- Skin irritations caused by insect bites or stings
- Nappy rash
It’s worth noting that these topical treatments are not a cure for any of the above conditions; although they are very effective to treat symptoms, they have no effect on the underlying cause of inflammation.
However, they can be extremely successful in helping to relieve symptoms like itching, irritation and skin flare-ups.
Different types of steroid creams and their strengths
There are many different types and strengths of topical corticosteroids.
Which type of steroid cream you choose to treat your eczema or other skin conditions will depend on the severity of your symptoms and the whereabouts of the body the affected area is located.
Medical professionals often talk about the ‘potency’ of topical steroids — how strong they are. This can vary from mild to very potent.
Below are the most common topical creams, which we’ve grouped into strengths starting with the weakest preparations:
Mild steroid creams
Types of mild steroid creams include:
- Hydrocortisone 1% cream
- Hc45 Hydrocortisone cream
- Fucidin H cream
Hydrocortisone 1% cream is a common, mild topical steroid that treats eczema by reducing the inflammatory chemicals that the body produces.
The active ingredient that Hydrocortisone products contain is hydrocortisone acetate, a mild corticosteroid that helps to tackle skin flare-ups, itching and soreness. Because of this, Hydrocortisone 1% and Hc45 cream can be used to treat a variety of inflammatory skin reactions and allergies including insect bites and stings.
When an infection is also present with mild inflammation, you can use the combination of hydrocortisone with fusidic acid, called Fucidin H cream. Click through to find out more about Fucidin H cream and its uses.
Moderate steroid creams
Types of moderate steroid creams include:
- Clobetasone 0.05%
A good example of moderate-strength steroid cream is Eumovate. Eumovate is available from The Independent Pharmacy as a cream or ointment and helps to relieve symptoms related to conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and insect bites.
The active ingredient in Eumovate is clobetasone, a moderately potent corticosteroid that reduces redness, itching and swelling. It may also be used as a preventative measure for flare-ups and has very few side effects for adults and children.
Potent topical corticosteroid/steroid creams
Types of potent steroid creams include:
- Betacap 0.1%
Stronger steroid creams are available if you’re finding that weaker treatments aren’t proving to be effective or if you have particularly thick skin.
For example, Betnovate is available as a cream or ointment. The active ingredient in Betnovate is betamethasone valerate, which is a potent corticosteroid. Because it’s a stronger steroid, Betnovate is usually used to control outbreaks rather than as a long-term preventative measure. If your skin condition is also showing signs of infection, you may want a stronger steroid cream that also contains an antibiotic, like Fucibet.
If you suffer from a skin condition that affects the scalp and head, there are topical treatments available that can specifically help with this, such as Betnovate Scalp Application and Betacap 0.1% Solution. Both of these medications can help to treat outbreaks of eczema and dermatitis of the scalp, or psoriasis affecting the scalp, and effectively calm redness and irritation.
Another option for scalp dermatitis is Elocon Scalp Lotion, which uses the equally potent steroid mometasone. Elocon moisturises the skin and slows the growth rate of skin cells (relieving psoriasis symptoms).
Both betamethasone and mometasone are strong corticosteroids and will be effective at treating more severe conditions, so which you choose is down to personal preference and your body’s response.
It’s worth noting that if you’re using potent topical corticosteroids for a long time or over a large area of skin, you are more likely to experience negative side effects, such as skin thinning (thin skin) or broken skin. This can even result in the corticosteroid being absorbed into your bloodstream and cause internal side effects, particularly in young children.
If you’re thinking of using stronger corticosteroids to tackle eczema for yourself or your child, then it’s important to seek advice from your doctor or a healthcare professional. They will be able to advise you on the best course of treatment for your condition. Read our guide for more information on how to moisturise your scalp.
Which steroid cream is strongest?
Known as Class I superpotent corticosteroids, the strongest steroid creams are those containing augmented betamethasone dipropionate (e.g. Diprolene), clobetasol propionate (e.g. Temovate, Olux), fluocinonide (e.g. Vanos), or clobetasol propionate (e.g. Ultravate).
Due to people having different needs and reactions, there’s no singular answer to this question. It’s also worth remembering that using the strongest available treatment doesn’t guarantee the best — or fastest — results. You need to find the steroid cream that best fits your condition.
If you suffer from eczema or other skin conditions, there are many different treatment options available that can help.
When you've got a flare-up, topical steroid creams can be extremely effective in reducing inflammation and irritation, and there are many different types and strengths available — meaning you can find the perfect product for you.
Here at The Independent Pharmacy, we offer a great range of dermatitis treatments. It’s as simple as starting a free online consultation with us today and getting your eczema medication delivered tomorrow.