Topical steroids—derived from the natural corticosteroid hormones produced by the adrenal glands—are the most frequently used treatment for psoriasis. Corticosteroids have many important functions in the body, including control of inflammatory responses. Topical steroids are used as anti-inflammatory agents to reduce the swelling and redness of lesions.
Steroids come in various strengths, ranging from very strong or "superpotent" to very weak or "least potent". Low-strength steroids are used. See our topical steroid potency chart for detail.
When using steroids, it's important to remember:
- When applying steroids, use a small amount on the affected areas only.
- Do not use a topical steroid for longer than three weeks without consulting your doctor.
- Refrain from abruptly discontinuing a topical steroid as it can cause your psoriasis to flare.
- Unless the medication is formulated for the eye area, do not use steroids on, in, or around the eyes, as cataracts and glaucoma can result.
- The more potent the steroid, the more effective it is in clearing psoriasis, but the risk of side effects is greater.
- Low-strength steroids are good for treating the face, groin and breasts, but care must be taken as the risk of side effects is greater in sensitive skin areas.
Potential side effects of topical steroids include skin damage, such as skin thinning, changes in pigmentation, easy bruising, stretch marks, redness and dilated surface blood vessels. Steroids can be absorbed through the skin and affect internal organs when applied to widespread areas of skin, used over long periods of time, or used with excessive occlusion.
In most cases, mild- to mid-strength steroids are safe for children if used on small areas of the body.
Do you have additional questions about topical steroids?
NPF’s Patient Navigation Center is the world's first, personalized support center for psoriatic disease. Our Patient Navigators can answer your questions on the latest topical steroids, including how to use them and understanding potential side effects.
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