Topical steroids (also known as topical corticosteroids) are creams prescribed to manage a range of skin conditions, including eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, rashes, rosacea and other inflamed, itchy or red skin complaints. They are intended for use on particular areas of skin, not for the whole body or for prolonged periods of time. TS are available in four potencies (strengths): mild, moderate, potent and very potent. The strength of TS required is recommended by the doctor, although patients are often started on mild TS, then progress up the ‘TS potency ladder’ if the strength is not sufficient, or if symptoms worsen. Mild TS can be purchased at pharmacies without a prescription; however, a prescription is required for stronger potencies. Potent TS are rarely given on repeat prescription, as their prolonged use is discouraged.
Corticosteroids are available in forms other than topical creams; oral steroids, steroid inhalers and steroid injections are also used to control some conditions. The side effects of non-topical steroids are more well-documented than those of TS, hence their long-term use is usually more closely monitored by doctors. The NHS website lists side effects of all types of steroids (www.nhs.uk/conditions/steroids/) however does not yet feature TSA/TSW.
Although both can be referred to as ‘steroids’, corticosteroids should not be confused with anabolic steroids, which are an entirely different drug. Anabolic steroids mimic the effects of testosterone, so are sometimes misused to increase muscle mass and improve athletic performance.