A low-dose glucocorticosteroids (GCS) like topical hydrocortisone, according to EczemaNet.com, is a steroid typically used on the face, near eyes and other sensitive skin areas. It's specifically prescribed for delicate skin areas like the face because it is a low-dosage steroid, so it delivers the fewest side effects. However, EczemaNet cautions that all steroids can have potential side effects, especially when used around the delicate eye area, and steroids should never be put into the eye.
At NetDoc.com they explain that topical steroids are used as an anti-inflammatory solution for skin conditions like eczema that can produce red, itchy, inflamed patches of skin. When the skin reacts to an irritation, the cells send out inflammatory chemicals that cause the skin to break out. The steroid is absorbed into the skin cells and prevents that reaction from occurring. The steroid does not cure the underlying condition but relieves the symptoms.
Steroids are classified by potency levels from low to high potency, notes experts at EczemaNet. Dermatologists typically try the lowest steroid dosage possible to eliminate the rash or outbreak. Higher dosage preparations are only used when necessary and for a limited time to minimize the possible side effects. EczemaNet indicates that higher dosages are often used just to get an extreme rash under control and are replaced by a lower dosage to control the symptoms.
Even low-dose steroids can thin the skin in the application area and cause permanent stretch marks, cautions Netdoctor. The skin can also lighten temporarily where the steroid is applied, or it can cause blood vessels under the skin to permanently enlarge. In some cases, it can make the rash worse. EczemaNet indicates that sometimes steroid creams around the eye can cause glaucoma or even cataracts.
For those who don't want to use the steroid cream because of the side effects, Mayo Clinic experts suggest ways to minimize rash outbreaks. Use cold compresses, moisturize skin, avoid scratching, use a humidifier and mild soaps or cleansers and wear natural fibers like cotton. Alternative treatments for outbreaks include taking an antihistamine, applying witch hazel or chamomile to soothe the reaction.
Experts at Netdoctor confirm that low-dose topical steroids are safe for temporary use by most people. However, pregnant or nursing mothers should only use if directed by their physician and small children can be highly susceptible to the possible side effects. Steroid creams should not be applied to skin that has an untreated infection, acne patches or acne rosacea areas as they can make the condition worse.
References and ResourcesNetDoctor: Topical corticosteroids
ExzemaNet: Treating Eczema with Steroids
Mayo Clinic: Atopic dermatitis (eczema)