Topical steroids are used to relieve skin conditions that cause skin inflammation and irritation.  When used as directed by your healthcare provider, topical steroids are a safe and effective way to treat conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis.

Topical steroids can be prescribed or purchased over-the-counter (OTC). They come in a variety of strengths and forms, such as creams or ointments.

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What Are Topical Steroids?

Topical steroids are medications that reduce inflammation in your skin.

Inflammation is a sign of an immune response. The treatment is applied to an affected area of skin to help reduce symptoms such as rashes, scaly patches, itching, pain, redness, or swelling.

For example, eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a group of skin conditions that lead to itchy and inflamed skin with a scaly rash. Eczema is common in children.3 If you experience a flare-up of eczema, you can apply a cream to help you stop scratching the area and allow your skin to heal.

Topical steroids may be used for other skin conditions such as:

  • Psoriasis, an autoimmune disorder that causes scaly patches of skin
  • Seborrheic dermatitis, a skin rash with red patches and greasy yellow scales that typically affects the scalp
  • Contact dermatitis, a red rash caused by contact with a substance that irritates the skin or causes an allergic reaction to it

The skin has two main layers: an outer layer called the epidermis and the inner layer called the dermis.

The strength of a topical steroid is determined by a test that measures how much it can cause your blood vessels to constrict in the upper part of the dermis.4

As blood vessels constrict, it can reduce swelling and discomfort.