13.4 Topical corticosteroids

Potency of a topical corticosteroid preparation is a result of the formulation as well as the corticosteroid. The potency of steroid should be matched to the severity of the disease, using the least potent steroid that effectively controls the disease.

Do not use:

  • potent or very potent topical corticosteroids on the face or neck
  • potent topical corticosteroids in children under 12 months without specialist dermatological supervision
  • very potent topical steroids in children without specialist dermatological advice

The preferred formulation for corticosteroids is usually ointment as they are more moisturising than cream, and contain less or no preservatives.

The advantages of including other substances (such as antibacterials or antifungals) with steroids in topical preparations are debatable, but they may have a place where there is associated bacterial or fungal infection.

NHS England (NHSE) has published new prescribing guidance for various common conditions for which over-the-counter (OTC) items should not be routinely prescribed in primary care (quick reference guide). One of these conditions is mild irritant dermatitis.

Many of these products are cheap to buy and are readily available OTC along with advice from pharmacies. Some self-care medicines are available from shops and supermarkets. Please click here for further information, exceptions, and a patient leaflet.

Suitable quantities of corticosteroid preparations

Topical corticosteroid preparations should be applied no more frequently than twice daily; once daily is often sufficient.

Topical corticosteroids should be spread thinly on the skin but in sufficient quantity to cover the affected areas. The length of cream or ointment expelled from a tube may be used to specify the quantity to be applied to a given area of skin. This length can be measured in terms of a fingertip unit (the distance from the tip of the adult index finger to the first crease). One fingertip unit (approximately 500 mg from a tube with a standard 5 mm diameter nozzle) is sufficient to cover an area that is twice that of the flat adult handprint (palm and fingers).

See below for the quantities that should be sufficient for two weeks treatment of once daily application.

Mild

Hydrocortisone
  • Ointment 1% (£2.26 = 30g)
  • Cream 1% (£2.18 = 30g)

Indications

Dose

  • Apply thinly once or twice daily

Notes

  1. Hydrocortisone ointment and cream (1%) is available over the counter, at lower cost than a prescription, for the treatment of allergic contact dermatitis, irritant dermatitis, insect bite reactions and mild to moderate eczema. It cannot be sold for application to eyes/face, anogenital region, on broken or infected skin or for use in pregnancy or children under 10 years.
Mild with antimicrobials/ antifungals
Fucidin H®

(Fusidic acid 2% / hydrocortisone 1%)

  • Cream (£6.02 = 30g)

Indications

Daktacort®

(Hydrocortisone 1% / miconazole nitrate 2%)

  • Cream(£2.49 = 30g)

Indications

Moderate

Eumovate®

(Clobetasone butyrate 0.05%)

  • Ointment (£1.86 = 30g)
  • Cream (£1.86 = 30g)

Indications

Dose

  • Apply thinly once or twice daily

Notes

  1. Eumovate® cream can be sold over the counter, at lower cost than a prescription, for short-term symptomatic treatment and control of patches of eczema and dermatitis (but not seborrhoeic dermatitis) in adults and children over 12 years.
Betnovate-RD®

(Betamethasone valerate 0.025%)

  • Ointment (£3.15 = 100g)
  • Cream (£3.15 = 100g)

Indications

Dose

  • Apply thinly once or twice daily
Fludroxycortide
  • Tape, 4 micrograms/cm2 (£13.67 = 7.5cm x 20cm)

Indications

  • Chronic localised recalcitrant dermatoses (but not acute or weeping)

Dose

  • Cut tape to fit lesion and apply to clean, dry skin shorn of hair, usually for 12 hours daily

Notes

  1. May be useful for hand eczema and localised skin cracks
Moderate with antimicrobials/ antifungals
Trimovate®

(Combination of clobetasone butyrate 0.05% w/w, oxytetracycline 3.0% w/w, and nystatin 100,000 units per gram)

  • Cream (£12.45 = 30g)

Indications

  • Treatment and management of steroid responsive dermatoses where candidal or bacterial infection is present, suspected or likely to occur

Dose

  • Apply thinly once or twice a day for up to 7 days

Potent

Betamethasone valerate 0.1%
  • Ointment 0.1% (£1.86 = 30g)
  • Cream 0.1% (£2.13 = 30g)
  • Scalp application (aqueous) 0.1% (£3.75 = 100mL)

Indications

Dose

  • Apply thinly once or twice daily

Notes

  1. Not licensed for use in children under 1 year
Mometasone furoate
  • Ointment 0.1% (£3.64 = 30g)
  • Cream 0.1% (£3.26 = 30g)
  • Scalp lotion 0.1% (£4.36 = 30ml)

Indications

Dose

  • Apply thinly once or twice daily
Potent with antimicrobials/ antifungals
Fucibet® cream

(Fusidic acid 2% / betamethasone valerate 0.1%)

  • Cream (£6.38 = 30g)

Indications

Potent with salicylic acid
Diprosalic®

(Betamethasone 0.05% / salicylic acid 3%)

  • Scalp application (£10.10 = 100ml)

Indications

  • Severe inflammatory skin disorders

Very potent

Due to the risk of potential errors, clobetasol preparations should be prescribed by brand

Dermovate®

(Clobetasol propionate 0.05%)

  • Ointment (£2.69 = 30g)
  • Cream (£2.69 = 30g)
  • Scalp application (£3.07 = 30ml)

Indications

Dose

  • Apply thinly once or twice daily
Etrivex®

(Clobetasol propionate 0.05%)

  • Shampoo (£9.15 = 125ml)

Indications

Dose

  • Apply thinly once or twice daily (twice daily dose is unlicensed). Shampoo should be rinsed off after 15 minutes

Suitable quantities of corticosteroid preparations

The following quantities should be sufficient for two weeks treatment of once daily application:

Area of body Amount required for 2 weeks
Face and neck 15-30g
Both hands 15-30g
Scalp 15-30g
Both arms 30-60g
Both legs 100g
Trunk 100g
Groin and genitalia 15-30g

 

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