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CORTICOSTEROIDS IN SKIN CARE (Topical corticosteroids)

CORTICOSTEROIDS IN SKIN CARE (Topical corticosteroids)

In order to serve you better as well as reach a wider audience, expect our usual blogs on Sundays.

Recall that the blog on skin bleaching/lightening/toning/whitening highlighted the three major culprits responsible for the health hazards of skin bleaching……HYDROQUINONE, MERCURY AND STEROIDS (Corticosteroids)

In our previous blogs we have extensively dealt with both Hydroquinone and Mercury in 3 series each.

Kindly refer to www.beautyinblack for more details.

Today we will be resuming discussion on CORTICOSTEROIDS!

CORTICOSTEROIDS IN SKIN CARE (Topical corticosteroids)

The widespread misuse of skin creams and lotions that contain steroids is becoming more and more prevalent and the situation is getting out of control. Corticosteroids, also known as steroids, are anti-inflammatory medicines used for a range of skin conditions, particularly allergic diseases. However, when misused, these can lead to substantial and permanent damage.

What is worrisome is their use as fairness creams, often leading to self-use by the public and over the counter sale in pharmacies. The side effects of corticosteroids include pigmentation and breakdown of the skin, small and widened blood vessels on the skin, as well as bacterial and fungal infections.

“The strong desire to have a quick response while treating skin diseases , also a growing fad for fair and glowing skin and easy availability of topical steroid creams is the leading cause for the abuse of topical steroids which today has assumed epidemic proportions,” said Dr. Venkataram Mysore, Congress President, World Congress of Cosmetic Dermatology.

What is worrisome is that in most cases, these creams are bought over the counter without any prescription, with consultation from a chemist, cosmetics dealer or on recommendation by a friend or a family member. These creams are often prescribed by beauty clinics and SPAs.


Topical (applied to the skin) steroids are a common medication used to treat many types of skin diseases. When steroids were first used by dermatologists over 50 years ago, it was considered as a game changer as many patients with all sorts of skin diseases got better. They work mainly by shutting down the inflammation, tightening the blood vessels/close and narrow the blood vessels (vasoconstriction), prevent the growth of cells in number and size (anti-proliferative) and suppressing the Immunity (immune cells in the skin).

A topical steroid is an anti-inflammatory preparation used to control eczema/dermatitis and many other skin conditions. Topical steroids are available in creams, ointments, solutions and other vehicles.

Topical steroids are also called topical corticosteroids, gluco-corticosteroids, and cortisone.

Topical steroid is sometimes combined with another active ingredient, including antibacterial, antifungal agent or calcipotriol. An alarming consequence of the abuse of these steroids is the emergence of resistance to commonly used antibiotics and antifungals rendering the treatment of infections more difficult and more expensive. Topical corticosteroid/antibiotic preparations should be used rarely, and short-term (e.g. three times for one week for a small area of infected dermatitis), to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance daily.


Topical corticosteroids are used as skin lighteners due to their potent bleaching action, and also their anti-inflammatory activity, which can reduce the risk of dermatitis (skin irritation and inflammation) when used along with other irritating skin lightening agents. Skin lightening was the main reason for the use of these drugs. This may also explain the female predominance (why most women use steroids containing products) in the usage of these products. These steroids are available in several cosmetic preparations in the marketplace.

Topical corticosteroids are regulated. However, potent steroid is illegally present in some cosmetic products purchased over the counter or via the Internet, according to reports from China and several developing countries. This has resulted in many reports of steroid-dependent facial rash (peri-oral dermatitis), pimple like eruption on the face, unwanted hair growth, rosacea (pustular lesions), and fixed redness and other side effects.


People of various age groups, socio-economic status, employment and marital status were found to be using topical corticosteroids as self-medication for conditions where their use is actually not indicated.


Misuse of topical corticosteroids appears to be a common problem in many parts of the world, as indicated by the proportion of patients visiting the Department of Dermatology with adverse effects of these drugs. The real problem which is probably even greater, is the prolonged, uninformed and self-prescribed use of these formulations.

Most of the topical steroids used by people were classed as potent or very potent according to an india study. In spite of the fact that these drugs can cause such serious adverse effects, they are sold without medical prescription or control and there is little awareness about the adverse effects among the general public.

In the same study done in India, the main responsibility for the misuse of topical corticosteroids could be attributed to pharmacists, paramedical personnel, the patient, friends or family. Responsibility could also be attributed to general physicians and even some dermatologists to the extent that they did not emphasize the adverse effects and proper dosing of topical corticosteroids to the patients. This may also bring into focus the insufficient knowledge among medical/paramedical personnel about the proper use of topical corticosteroids. (A great need for continued medical education in the health sector!)


To be continued next week………

Till then do an ingredient search on your cosmetic products, let us know what it contains.

Have a great week.

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