Skip to main content

Topical steroids

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

Other names: 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:

View by  Brand | Generic
Drug Name Avg. Rating Reviews
Elocon (Pro)
Generic name: mometasone
9.1
59 reviews
Clobex (Pro)
Generic name: clobetasol
8.9
39 reviews
Kenalog
Generic name: triamcinolone
8.8
23 reviews
Olux (Pro)
Generic name: clobetasol
9.5
12 reviews
Lidex (Pro)
Generic name: fluocinonide
8.7
10 reviews
Cordran Tape (Pro)
Generic name: flurandrenolide
8.8
10 reviews
Cloderm (Pro)
Generic name: clocortolone
9.3
7 reviews
Ultravate (Pro)
Generic name: halobetasol
8.1
6 reviews
Topicort (Pro)
Generic name: desoximetasone
9.1
6 reviews
DesOwen (Pro)
Generic name: desonide
8.3
6 reviews
Temovate (Pro)
Generic name: clobetasol
10
5 reviews
Cortizone-10
Generic name: hydrocortisone
8.4
5 reviews
Luxiq (Pro)
Generic name: betamethasone
9.8
4 reviews
Locoid Lipocream (Pro)
Generic name: hydrocortisone
9.0
4 reviews
Cutivate (Pro)
Generic name: fluticasone
9.2
4 reviews
Verdeso (Pro)
Generic name: desonide
9.7
3 reviews
Halog
Generic name: halcinonide
9.0
3 reviews
Dermovate
Generic name: clobetasol
9.0
3 reviews
Anucort-HC (Pro)
Generic name: hydrocortisone
4.7
3 reviews
Synalar (Pro)
Generic name: fluocinolone
10
2 reviews
Diprosone
Generic name: betamethasone
10
2 reviews
Diprolene (Pro)
Generic name: betamethasone
6.7
2 reviews
Desonate (Pro)
Generic name: desonide
6.0
2 reviews
Dermatop (Pro)
Generic name: prednicarbate
9.5
2 reviews
Anusol-HC Suppositories
Generic name: hydrocortisone
5.7
2 reviews
Westcort (Pro)
Generic name: hydrocortisone
10
1 review
Topicort LP
Generic name: desoximetasone
10
1 review
Synalar Ointment
Generic name: fluocinolone
7.0
1 review
Psorcon E
Generic name: diflorasone
9.0
1 review
Psorcon (Pro)
Generic name: diflorasone
10
1 review
Proctozone HC (Pro)
Generic name: hydrocortisone
4.5
1 review
Procto-Med HC
Generic name: hydrocortisone
7.0
1 review
Olux-E (Pro)
Generic name: clobetasol
5.5
1 review
Locoid (Pro)
Generic name: hydrocortisone
10
1 review
Lidex-E (Pro)
Generic name: fluocinonide
10
1 review
Halog-E
Generic name: halcinonide
10
1 review
Embeline
Generic name: clobetasol
8.0
1 review
Diprolene AF
Generic name: betamethasone
9.0
1 review
Derma-Smoothe / FS (Scalp)
Generic name: fluocinolone
10
1 review
Capex (Pro)
Generic name: fluocinolone
10
1 review
Betnovate
Generic name: betamethasone
10
1 review
Aristocort R
Generic name: triamcinolone
1.0
1 review
Aristocort A
Generic name: triamcinolone
10
1 review
Vanos (Pro)
Generic name: fluocinonide
9.0
No reviews
Valisone
Generic name: betamethasone
10
No reviews
U-Cort (Pro)
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Tritocin
Generic name: triamcinolone
No reviews
Tridesilon
Generic name: desonide
No reviews
Triderm (Pro)
Generic name: triamcinolone
No reviews
Trianex (Pro)
Generic name: triamcinolone
No reviews
Triacet
Generic name: triamcinolone
No reviews
Treziopak
Generic name: triamcinolone
No reviews
Tovet (Pro)
Generic name: clobetasol
No reviews
Texacort (Pro)
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Temovate E (Pro)
Generic name: clobetasol
No reviews
SilaLite Pak
Generic name: triamcinolone
No reviews
Sernivo (Pro)
Generic name: betamethasone
No reviews
Scalp-Cort
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Scalacort DK
Generic name: hydrocortisone / salicylic acid / sulfur
No reviews
Scalacort
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Sarnol-HC
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Rectacort-HC
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Recort Plus
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Proctocream-HC (Pro)
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Proctocort (Pro)
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
ProctoCare-HC
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Preparation H Anti-Itch Cream Hydrocortisone 1%
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Pediaderm TA (Pro)
Generic name: triamcinolone
No reviews
Pediaderm HC (Pro)
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Pandel (Pro)
Generic name: hydrocortisone
5.0
No reviews
Oralone (Pro)
Generic name: triamcinolone
No reviews
Olux / Olux-E Kit
Generic name: clobetasol
No reviews
Nutracort
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
NuCort (Pro)
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Nolix (Pro)
Generic name: flurandrenolide
No reviews
MiCort-HC
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Maxiflor
Generic name: diflorasone
No reviews
LoKara (Pro)
Generic name: desonide
No reviews
Lexette (Pro)
Generic name: halobetasol
No reviews
Lacticare-HC
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Keratol HC
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Juulissa Pharmapak
Generic name: triamcinolone
No reviews
Itch-X Lotion
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Instacort
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Impoyz (Pro)
Generic name: clobetasol
No reviews
Impeklo (Pro)
Generic name: clobetasol
No reviews
Hytone (Pro)
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Hybrisil
Generic name: methylprednisolone
No reviews
Hemmorex-HC (Pro)
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Halonate
Generic name: halobetasol
No reviews
Gynecort Maximum Strength
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Gly-Cort
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Fluocinonide-E
Generic name: fluocinonide
9.0
No reviews
Florone (Pro)
Generic name: diflorasone
No reviews
Embeline E
Generic name: clobetasol
No reviews
DesRx
Generic name: desonide
No reviews
Dermtex HC
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Dermasorb TA (Pro)
Generic name: triamcinolone
No reviews
Dermasorb HC (Pro)
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Dermarest Plus Anti-Itch
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
DermacinRx Trizapak
Generic name: triamcinolone
No reviews
DermacinRx Silazone
Generic name: triamcinolone
No reviews
Derma-Smoothe / FS (Pro)
Generic name: fluocinolone
No reviews
Del-Beta
Generic name: betamethasone
No reviews
Cyclocort
Generic name: amcinonide
No reviews
Cotacort
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Cortizone-5
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Corticaine
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Cortaid
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Cormax Scalp
Generic name: clobetasol
No reviews
Cormax (Pro)
Generic name: clobetasol
No reviews
Cordran SP
Generic name: flurandrenolide
No reviews
Cordran (Pro)
Generic name: flurandrenolide
No reviews
Clodan (Pro)
Generic name: clobetasol
No reviews
Clobevate
Generic name: clobetasol
8.0
No reviews
Cinolar
Generic name: triamcinolone
No reviews
Cetacort
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Carmol HC
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Caldecort
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Bryhali (Pro)
Generic name: halobetasol
No reviews
Bioelements Immediate Comfort
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Betamethacot
Generic name: betamethasone
No reviews
Beta HC
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Betacort
Generic name: betamethasone
No reviews
Beta-Val
Generic name: betamethasone
1.0
No reviews
Beser (Pro)
Generic name: fluticasone
No reviews
Aquax-H
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Aquanil HC
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
ApexiCon E (Pro)
Generic name: diflorasone
No reviews
Apexicon (Pro)
Generic name: diflorasone
No reviews
Anusol-HC
Generic name: hydrocortisone
10
No reviews
Alphatrex
Generic name: betamethasone
No reviews
Ala-Scalp HP
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Ala-Scalp
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Ala-Cort (Pro)
Generic name: hydrocortisone
No reviews
Aclovate (Pro)
Generic name: alclometasone
No reviews
For ratings, users were asked how effective they found the medicine while considering positive/adverse effects and ease of use (1 = not effective, 10 = most effective).

Further information

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