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Side Effects Of Topical Steroids On The Skin

Topical steroids are wonderful medications for various skin conditions, but unsupervised use of the drugs can cause serious side effects, warns a dermatologist.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Updated : September 29, 2022 3:39 PM IST

Topical corticosteroids, also called topical steroids, are anti inflammatory drugs used for the treatment of a wide range of skin conditions, including eczema, contact dermatitis, and psoriasis. These medicines are available in different forms: creams, lotions, ointments, solutions, gels and other vehicles. If used correctly, topical corticosteroids are very safe and effective. But often people resort to self-medication and misuse the drugs, which results in serious side effects.

In an exclusive interaction with TheHealthSite, Dr. Sravya C Tipirneni, Consultant Dermatologist and Cosmetologist at Manipal Hospitals in Bangalore, sheds light on the common side effects associated with misuse or long-term use of topical steroids on the skin. The conversation follows:

Misuse of topical steroids prevalent in India

Topical corticosteroids are wonderful medications, but they are often misunderstood and abused without prescription in India. A mass population in India is obsessed with fairness and cosmetic creams to get that instant gratification from minor skin issues or are looking for that advertised glow of actresses and models they see on TVs.

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Most doctors prefer to prescribe topical steroids for as short a period of time as possible because of their side effects but again, it depends on the severity of the problem hence, it may vary from patient to patient.

Side effects of topical steroids on the skin

We use them for a host of skin conditions like: Eczemas, Psoriasis, White patches, Autoimmune skin issues, Allergic reactions, Drug allergies, Lichen planus, Alopecia areata and many more.

Most of the side effects are caused by:

  1. No adherence to prescription
  2. Self-medication
  3. Usage as fairness creams
  4. No follow up with doctors

The side effects can be mainly classified into short term and long-term effects.

Short term:

  1. Steroid allergy
  2. Flare up of acne
  3. Flare up of rosacea
  4. Tinea incognito

Long term effects:

This includes unsupervised use of steroids over a long duration, and this can sometimes lead to

  1. Tachyphylaxis: Tolerance and non-response to the steroid cream
  2. Striae distensae (Stretch marks): Very severely painful/red and white stretch marks in delicate areas which become really difficult to treat later
  3. Atrophy of skin: thinning of skin
  4. Acne: Steroid induced
  5. Hirsutism (excess facial hair growth): This usually happens with fairness creams.

Final words

"Always consult a board-certified doctor for the correct usage. But the responsibility is always in the patient's hands," said Dr. Sravya.

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