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Eczema cream: How topical steroids benefit sensitive skin – and the risks

Eczema cream can do wonders for people with sensitive skin. The medicated lotion is key in treating many skin conditions, but how does it work? And when shouldn’t it be used?

Topical steroids are man-made, says medical website Patient. Similar to hormones found in the body, they work in a number of ways.

For instance, they reduce redness and swelling (inflammation) on wherever its applied to the body.

It also suppresses the body’s immune system and narrows blood vessels.


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There are topical steroid creams, which are usually white in colour. This tends to treat moist or weeping areas of skin.

Then there are ointments which typically tend to be clear. These are best used to treat dry or thickened skin.

A short course of treatment is all that is usually required to clear a flare-up of eczema.

Although topical steroids can be prescribed, some are available over-the-counter.

The medication is grouped into four categories depending on its strength – mild, moderately potent, potent and very potent.

The greater the potency (strength) of the steroid cream, the more effective it is at reducing inflammation.

However, the greater the potency the greater the risk of side effects with continued use.

As side effects are best avoided, a course of topical steroids is used to treat a flare-up of eczema.

Once the flare-up has subsided, steroid treatment is usually stopped – this can be up to 14 days or longer.

Overexposure to strong steroids can lead to unwanted side effects, such as bruising, discolouration tor telangiectasias.

Also known as spider veins, telangiectasias is when widened blood vessels causes threadlike red lines on the skin.

Hair may even grow in the treated area, and some people may become allergic to the treatment.


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Most people with eczema will be using emollients (moisturisers) alongside topical steroids.

When using the two treatments Patient advises to put on the emollient first.

It adds that you should wait up to 15 minutes before applying the topical steroid after the emollient.

Emollients help to soothe and hydrate the sensitive skin.

Unlike topical steroid creams, which are typically restricted with their usage, emollients can be applied as often as you’d like.

Ideally, these emollient moisturisers should be applied at least three times a day.

Certain activities, such as gardening, can irritate sensitive skin so the NHS advises people to put on emollients beforehand.

Emollients are great after washing your hands, showering or taking a bath – as this is when the skin most needs moisture.

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  • Posted on May 6, 2020