Steroid vs Steroid-Free

Topical Steroid Treatments

Since the late 1950s, topical steroid treatments—also known as topical corticosteroids or cortisone—have been used to control the symptoms of many inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis.

Topical steroids are divided into groups—I through VII—with Group I having the strongest anti-inflammatory effect. The steroid used in most over-the-counter topical treatments is hydrocortisone, and it falls in the weakest category: Group VII. Your healthcare professional may prescribe a stronger topical steroid treatment, depending on the type and nature of the skin condition being treated.

Benefits and Risks

Although topical steroid treatments can be very effective in reducing inflammation and are safe when used correctly, they also have to potential to cause systemic and local side effects, depending on:

  • The strength of the steroid
  • The length of application
  • The site treated
  • The nature of the skin problem

The most common side effects from topical steroids include:

  • Thinning, bruising and tearing of the skin
  • Stretch marks
  • Enlarged blood vessels
  • Rash around the mouth (if topical steroid treatment is used on the face)
  • Susceptibility to or disguising of skin infections
  • Development of allergy to the topical steroid treatment


Topical steroid treatments are used to control the symptoms of many inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis. Only a healthcare professional can determine which type, strength and dosage of topical steroid treatment is appropriate to treat a specific skin condition.

Generally, the mildest forms of topical steroid treatments are prescribed to treat atopic dermatitis rashes that do not have open or crusted sores. Higher-strength formulations may be prescribed in acute situations, or in scaly or oozing rashes or rashes that occur in thickened skin.

Topical Steroid-Free Treatments

Topical steroid-free treatments help relieve the itching of many inflammatory skin conditions without the use of steroids, which have the potential for unwanted side effects.

Topical corticosteroids continue to be the mainstay of eczema treatment.

Other topical steroid-free itch treatments like SARNA Anti-Itch Lotions use combinations of over-the-counter, dermatologist-recommended ingredients—pramoxine hydrochloride, menthol and white petrolatum—to help relieve itching and dryness.

Benefits and Risks

Topical steroid-free treatments do not have the potential for side effects that steroid-containing formulas do. They may also be used in areas of the body where steroid-containing formulas should not be applied.

1. Data on file, Crown Laboratories