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Topical steroids

Written on June 20, 2018 by C. Fookes, BPharm

Medically reviewed on June 20, 2018

Other names: Corticosteroids, Topical corticosteroids

What are Topical steroids?

Topical steroids are aerosols, creams, gels, lotions, solutions, and tapes that contain corticosteroids (often abbreviated to steroids) and are designed to be applied externally to the scalp or the skin, depending on the condition being treated.

Corticosteroids control inflammation by mimicking naturally occurring corticosteroid hormones produced by our adrenal glands, which are two small glands that sit on top of our kidneys. In addition to reducing inflammation (redness and swelling) in the area that they are applied, topical corticosteroids also suppress the immune response, reduce cell turnover, and constrict (narrow) blood vessels.

What are topical steroids used for?

Topical steroids of low to medium potency may be used for the treatment of various skin disorders that respond to corticosteroids such as:

More potent topical corticosteroids may be used for the treatment of:

Generally, the weakest effective steroid should be used; however, some doctors may choose to use a more potent topical steroid initially for the first few days.

Are there any differences between topical steroids?

Topical steroids come in various potencies (strengths), ranging from very high potency (Class 1) to low potency (Class 7).

In some instances, absorption of different formulations containing the same active ingredient can vary (for example, betamethasone ointment is absorbed better than betamethasone cream) which can also affect potency.

Skin thickness can also affect absorption.

  • The skin of the eyelids, genitals, and skin creases is thin and potent topical steroids should be avoided.
  • The skin of the palms and soles is thick and mild topical steroids are usually ineffective.

Absorption (and potency) is greatly enhanced by occlusion (covering the area with impermeable or semi-impermeable dressings).

Topical steroids are sometimes combined with other ingredients, such as antifungal or antibacterial agents. Combination antibacterial/corticosteroid preparations should only be used short-term (for less than one week) to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance developing.

Very high potency (Class 1)

These topical corticosteroids are up to 600 times more potent than topical hydrocortisone.

Generic name Brand name examples
Augmented betamethasone dipropionate gel and ointment 0.05% Diprolene ointment/gel
clobetasol propionate 0.05% Cormax cream/solution, Clobex lotion/spray/shampoo, Olux foam, Olux E foam, Temovate cream/ointment/solution
diflorasone diacetate 0.05% Apexicon ointment
fluocinonide 0.1% Vanos cream
flurandrenolide 4mcg/m2 Cordran Tape
halobetasol 0.05% Ultravate cream/ointment/lotion

Potent (Class 2)

These topical corticosteroids are 100-150 times more potent than topical hydrocortisone.

Generic name Brand name examples
amcinonide ointment 0.1% Cyclocort
Augmented betamethasone dipropionate lotion and cream (0.05%), regular betamethasone dipropionate ointment (0.05%) Diprolene cream AF, Diprolene lotion, Diprosone ointment
desoximetasone Topicort cream/ointment (0.25%), Topicort gel (0.05%)
diflorasone diacetate 0.05% Apexicon E cream
fluocinonide 0.05% Generic fluocinonide
halcinonide 0.1% Halog ointment/cream/solution

Upper medium potency (Class 3)

These topical corticosteroids are up to 25 times more potent than topical hydrocortisone.

Generic name Brand name examples
amcinonide 0.1% Cyclocort cream
Regular betamethasone dipropionate cream 0.05% Generic
fluticasone propionate 0.005% Cutivate ointment
triamcinolone acetonide 0.5% Cinolar cream/ointment

Medium potency (Class 4 and 5)

These topical corticosteroids are between 2 and 25 times more potent than topical hydrocortisone.

Generic name Brand name examples
betamethasone valerate Beta-Val cream/lotion (0.1%), Luxiq foam (0.12%)
desoximetasone 0.05% Topicort LP cream
hydrocortisone 17-butyrate 0.1% Locoid ointment
hydrocortisone probutate 0.1% Pandel cream
hydrocortisone valerate 0.2% Westcort cream/ointment
fluocinolone acetonide 0.025% Synalar cream/ointment
fluticasone propionate 0.05% Cutivate cream
mometasone furoate 0.1% Elocon cream
triamcinolone acetonide 0.025% Kenalog cream/spray
triamcinolone acetonide 0.1% Triderm cream/lotion/ointment

Mild (Class 6)

These topical corticosteroids are slightly more potent than topical hydrocortisone.

Generic name Brand name examples
alclometasone dipropionate 0.05% Aclovate cream/ointment
desonide 0.05% Desonate gel, Desowen cream/ointment
fluocinolone acetonide 0.01% Derma-Smoothe
hydrocortisone 17-butyrate 0.1% Locoid cream

Least potent (Class 7)

Hydrocortisone is the least potent topical corticosteroid.

Generic name Brand name examples
hydrocortisone 1%, 2.5% Cetacort, Cortaid, Hytone

Note that potency charts vary depending on the source. This grouping of potencies is based on the best effort accumulation of data.

Are topical steroids safe?

Serious side effects are uncommon or rare when topical corticosteroids are used exactly as directed and for the time intended, but may include:

  • Cushing syndrome: Rare, but the risk is higher if large quantities of a topical corticosteroid (>50g/week of clobetasone propionate or >500g/week of hydrocortisone) are used long-term
  • Glaucoma or cataracts caused by excessive use of topical steroids near the eye.

Topical steroids should not be confused with anabolic steroids often abused by body-builders to increase muscle mass.

For a complete list of severe side effects, please refer to the individual drug monographs.

What are the side effects of topical steroids?

Common side effects reported with topical steroids include:

  • Easy bruising and tearing of the skin
  • Enlarged blood vessels (telangiectasia)
  • Folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicles) and miliaria (sweat rash): ointments
  • Increased hair thickness and length in the area of application (hypertrichosis)
  • Skin thinning
  • Stinging or inflamed skin: creams
  • Stretch marks (striae) especially in the armpits or groin.

Side effects associated with more potent topical steroid use include:

  • Perioral dermatitis (also called “Muzzle rash”). Consists of small, red, pus-filled bumps and mild peeling around the mouth
  • Steroid rosacea: A rosacea-like condition near the middle of the face. Can worsen when the topical steroid is discontinued
  • Pustular psoriasis: Clearly defined raised bumps filled with pus
  • Topical corticosteroid withdrawal: Symptoms include red burning skin, swelling, or pimples after discontinuation of the topical corticosteroid.

Topical corticosteroids can also mask the symptoms of infections caused by bacteria, fungi, or viruses.

Note that some potent topical steroids have been found illegally in some cosmetic products purchased over-the-counter or via the internet, resulting in steroid-dependent dermatitis and rosacea.

For a complete list of side effects, please refer to the individual drug monographs.

List of Topical steroids:

Filter by:
Drug NameView by: Brand | Generic Reviews Avg. Ratings
Aristocort A
generic name: triamcinolone
1 review
   
10
Capex (Pro)
generic name: fluocinolone
1 review
   
10
Derma-Smoothe / FS (Scalp)
generic name: fluocinolone
1 review
   
10
Diprosone
generic name: betamethasone
2 reviews
   
10
Halog-E
generic name: halcinonide
1 review
   
10
Locoid (Pro)
generic name: hydrocortisone
1 review
   
10
Psorcon (Pro)
generic name: diflorasone
1 review
   
10
Synalar (Pro)
generic name: fluocinolone
2 reviews
   
10
Temovate (Pro)
generic name: clobetasol
5 reviews
   
10
Topicort LP
generic name: desoximetasone
1 review
   
10
Valisone
generic name: betamethasone
0 reviews
   
10
Westcort (Pro)
generic name: hydrocortisone
1 review
   
10
Luxiq (Pro)
generic name: betamethasone
3 reviews
   
9.7
Verdeso (Pro)
generic name: desonide
3 reviews
   
9.7
Dermatop (Pro)
generic name: prednicarbate
2 reviews
   
9.5
Elocon (Pro)
generic name: mometasone
44 reviews
   
9.5
Olux (Pro)
generic name: clobetasol
11 reviews
   
9.5
Cloderm (Pro)
generic name: clocortolone
6 reviews
   
9.3
Cutivate (Pro)
generic name: fluticasone
4 reviews
   
9.2
Locoid Lipocream (Pro)
generic name: hydrocortisone
5 reviews
   
9.2
Proctosol-HC
generic name: hydrocortisone
4 reviews
   
9.2
Topicort (Pro)
generic name: desoximetasone
6 reviews
   
9.1
Dermovate
generic name: clobetasol
1 review
   
9.0
Diprolene AF
generic name: betamethasone
1 review
   
9.0
Fluocinonide-E
generic name: fluocinonide
0 reviews
   
9.0
Halog
generic name: halcinonide
3 reviews
   
9.0
Oralone (Pro)
generic name: triamcinolone
0 reviews
   
9.0
Psorcon E
generic name: diflorasone
1 review
   
9.0
Vanos (Pro)
generic name: fluocinonide
0 reviews
   
9.0
Clobex (Pro)
generic name: clobetasol
36 reviews
   
8.8
Cordran Tape (Pro)
generic name: flurandrenolide
9 reviews
   
8.8
Lidex (Pro)
generic name: fluocinonide
9 reviews
   
8.5
Cortizone-10
generic name: hydrocortisone
5 reviews
   
8.4
DesOwen (Pro)
generic name: desonide
6 reviews
   
8.3
Kenalog
generic name: triamcinolone
12 reviews
   
8.2
Ultravate (Pro)
generic name: halobetasol
6 reviews
   
8.1
Clobevate
generic name: clobetasol
0 reviews
   
8.0
Embeline
generic name: clobetasol
1 review
   
8.0
Synalar Ointment (Pro)
generic name: fluocinolone
1 review
   
7.0
Diprolene (Pro)
generic name: betamethasone
2 reviews
   
6.7
Desonate (Pro)
generic name: desonide
2 reviews
   
6.0
Anusol-HC Suppositories
generic name: hydrocortisone
2 reviews
   
5.7
Olux-E (Pro)
generic name: clobetasol
1 review
   
5.5
Pandel (Pro)
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviews
   
5.0
Anucort-HC (Pro)
generic name: hydrocortisone
2 reviews
   
3.5
Aristocort R
generic name: triamcinolone
1 review
   
1.0
Beta-Val
generic name: betamethasone
0 reviews
   
1.0
Aclovate (Pro)
generic name: alclometasone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Ala-Cort (Pro)
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Ala-Scalp
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Ala-Scalp HP
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Alphatrex
generic name: betamethasone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Anumed-HC
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Anusol-HC
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Apexicon (Pro)
generic name: diflorasone
0 reviewsAdd rating
ApexiCon E (Pro)
generic name: diflorasone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Aquanil HC
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Betacort
generic name: betamethasone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Beta HC
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Betamethacot
generic name: betamethasone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Betnovate
generic name: betamethasone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Bioelements Immediate Comfort
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Caldecort
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Carmol HC
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Cetacort
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Cinolar
generic name: triamcinolone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Clodan (Pro)
generic name: clobetasol
0 reviewsAdd rating
Coraz
generic name: hydrocortisone/salicylic acid/sulfur
0 reviewsAdd rating
Cordran (Pro)
generic name: flurandrenolide
0 reviewsAdd rating
Cordran SP
generic name: flurandrenolide
0 reviewsAdd rating
Cormax (Pro)
generic name: clobetasol
0 reviewsAdd rating
Cormax Scalp
generic name: clobetasol
0 reviewsAdd rating
Cortaid
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Corticaine
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Cortizone-5
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Cortizone-10 Anal Itch Cream
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Cotacort
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Cyclocort
generic name: amcinonide
0 reviewsAdd rating
Del-Beta
generic name: betamethasone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Derma-Smoothe / FS (Pro)
generic name: fluocinolone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Dermarest Plus Anti-Itch
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Dermasorb HC (Pro)
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Dermasorb TA (Pro)
generic name: triamcinolone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Dermtex HC
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Embeline E
generic name: clobetasol
0 reviewsAdd rating
Florone (Pro)
generic name: diflorasone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Flurosyn
generic name: fluocinolone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Gly-Cort
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Gynecort Maximum Strength
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Halonate
generic name: halobetasol
0 reviewsAdd rating
Hemmorex-HC
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Hemorrhoidal HC
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Hemril-30
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Hemril-HC Uniserts
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Hybrisil
generic name: methylprednisolone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Hytone (Pro)
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Impoyz
generic name: clobetasol
0 reviewsAdd rating
Instacort
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Itch-X Lotion
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Keratol HC
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Lacticare-HC
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Lidex-E (Pro)
generic name: fluocinonide
0 reviewsAdd rating
LoKara (Pro)
generic name: desonide
0 reviewsAdd rating
Maxiflor
generic name: diflorasone
0 reviewsAdd rating
MiCort-HC
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Nolix (Pro)
generic name: flurandrenolide
0 reviewsAdd rating
NuCort (Pro)
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Nutracort
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Olux / Olux-E Kit
generic name: clobetasol
0 reviewsAdd rating
Pediaderm HC (Pro)
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Pediaderm TA (Pro)
generic name: triamcinolone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Preparation H Anti-Itch Cream Hydrocortisone 1%
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Procto-Kit 1%
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Procto-Kit 2.5%
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Procto-Med HC
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Procto-Pak 1%
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
ProctoCare-HC
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Proctocort (Pro)
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Proctocream-HC (Pro)
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Proctosert HC
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Proctozone-H
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Proctozone HC (Pro)
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Recort Plus
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Rectacort-HC
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Rectasol-HC
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Sarnol-HC
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Scalacort
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Scalacort DK
generic name: hydrocortisone/salicylic acid/sulfur
0 reviewsAdd rating
Scalp-Cort
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Sernivo (Pro)
generic name: betamethasone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Temovate E (Pro)
generic name: clobetasol
0 reviewsAdd rating
Texacort (Pro)
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Triacet
generic name: triamcinolone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Trianex (Pro)
generic name: triamcinolone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Triderm (Pro)
generic name: triamcinolone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Tridesilon
generic name: desonide
0 reviewsAdd rating
Tucks Hydrocortisone Anti-Itch Ointment
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
U-Cort (Pro)
generic name: hydrocortisone
0 reviewsAdd rating
Ultravate PAC
generic name: ammonium lactate/halobetasol
0 reviewsAdd rating

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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