We have been blessed with the use of topical corticosteroids. And we have been cursed by the use of topical corticosteroids.
For more than 60 years, first by dermatologists, then by general medical practitioners, and then by pharmaceutical companies and pharmacists, these creams, lotions, ointments, solutions, gels, sprays, and pastes have been prescribed and promoted for a variety of cutaneous disorders and ailments, mainly pruritus, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and other corticosteroid-responsive cutaneous afflictions, and used by the general public, indiscriminately, for itching, redness, swelling, hyperpigmentation, and lately as a panacea for all their skin woes. This has been reinforced by all the publicity that we see on television and read in ladies’ magazines and supported, advertised, promoted,
and endorsed by the pharmaceutical industry. It is egregious and unconscionable to advertise these ever-increasing potent and damaging products to an unsuspecting, gullible public.
The first reported use of a topical corticosteroid, hydrocortisone, was by Sulzberger and Witten in 1952 in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology (J Invest Dermatol. 1952 Aug; 19(2):101–2). Since then, a plethora of warnings has been launched on a trusting but ignorant public, to no avail. Some of these corticosteroids are powerful enough to cause irreparable damage not only to the skin but to internal organs as well. These steroidal ointments, creams, lotions, gels, solutions, aerosols, sprays, shampoos, foams, drops, and other vehicles can be found in drugstores and pharmacies and can often
be purchased without a doctor’s prescription. There are myriad side effects to many of the stronger, more potent, varieties of topical corticosteroids, some of which are serious and hazardous and can lead to permanent damage. Fluorinated steroids, particularly the ointment varieties, when used under occlusion, should be used cautiously and not for any length of time.
Steroid atrophy is a serious side effect of protracted applications of topical corticosteroids. Steroids are absorbed at different rates depending on the thickness of the stratum corneum. The eyelids and the genital areas absorb about 25%, the palms and soles about 0.1%, the upper and lower extremities about 2%, and the face about 7%. The absorption rate is much greater when the steroid is used in an ointment base.