What Are The Side Effects of Topical Hydrocortisone Cream?

What Are The Side Effects of Topical Hydrocortisone Cream?

Updated 12/27/22

When we think of steroids, the first thing to come to mind might be muscle-bound bodybuilders or athletes who use them to unfairly enhance their performance.

But there are different types of steroids, and not all of them are used for illicit purposes. Steroids also exist in skincare products; and while they are not illegal, they can be just as controversial.

The most common type of steroid used illegally in sports is called anabolic steroids, which are synthetic hormones similar to testosterone. The side effects of these drugs include liver damage, high blood pressure, and aggression.

Steroid pills and syringe

Corticosteroids, on the other hand, are what are found in many skin care products. They are a type of steroid naturally produced in our bodies by the adrenal gland. They’re often used to treat inflammatory conditions, such as allergies, asthma, and arthritis. It is also possible to manufacture synthetic corticosteroids that are used in creams, ointments, and injections to treat a host of skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.

Though corticosteroid-containing skincare products may seem harmless because they’re so widely available, this is not the case.

A large variety of skincare products

 Read on to find out how these commonly used ingredients can negatively affect your health if you use them frequently and why you should be very wary of the many side effects of hydrocortisone.

Steroids everywhere

When it comes to steroids in skincare, it seems like they’re in everything these days.

Hydrocortisone, a milder form of corticosteroid, can be found in over-the-counter itch creams and anti-inflammatory products. Clobetasol propionate, a stronger type of corticosteroid, is available by prescription and is typically used in the treatment of more serious skin conditions such as psoriasis.

While hydrocortisone can be used safely for short periods of time, repeatedly applying it to the skin can cause redness and itching. Using hydrocortisone for a long period of time can also lead to long-term side effects, such as thinning of the skin, stretch marks, easy bruising, and changes in pigmentation. Prolonged use can also lead to adrenal suppression, which one of the more common side effects of hydrocortisone cream. This is when the body's natural production of cortisol (a hormone produced by the adrenal glands) is reduced. If you have been identified as having adrenal insufficiency, you must keep a steroid crisis card with you.

Clobetasol propionate should only be used as directed by a doctor; and even then, only for a few weeks at most.

Corticosteroids are commonly found in prescription creams for the treatment of atopic dermatitis (e.g., hydrocortisone 10%) or psoriasis (e.g., tacrolimus 2%).

Many lower cost skincare products contain natural corticosteroid ingredients as well, including ointments or lotions that use hydrocortisone, dexamethasone or betamethasone as their primary active ingredient.
So, are corticosteroids in skin care products bad for you?

Before diving deep into that question, let’s first understand how they work.

Cortisone vs Hydrocortisone

Most people have heard of cortisone, but many don’t know that there are actually two types of this medication – cortisone and hydrocortisone. Both are steroid hormones that can be used to treat a variety of conditions, but they have different strengths and durations of action.

Cortisone is a natural steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal gland, while hydrocortisone is a synthetic version of this hormone. Both are used to treat inflammation and allergic reactions as well as regulating metabolism, immunity, and stress response.

Hydrocortisone is more potent than cortisone and has a more rapid onset of action. However, it also has a more short-lived effect. Cortisone, conversely, has a longer duration of action but is less effective at reducing inflammation.

These drugs are available in different forms, including creams, ointments, tablets, and injections. They’re also available in different strengths, from prescription strength to over-the-counter (OTC) products.

Specifically, hydrocortisone is available in OTC form, while cortisone tablets are only available by prescription.

Why take hydrocortisone cream?

Topical steroid hydrocortisone cream is used to treat and reduce itching and inflammation caused by eczema, psoriasis, poison ivy, and other skin conditions.

Applying Dermeleve anti-itch Cream

 It is available over the counter in concentrations of up to 1% hydrocortisone, while higher concentrations are available by prescription only.

Hydrocortisone cream is generally safe and effective when used as directed. This is usually limited to taking this drug for intermittent or short-term use (2 weeks).

Some serious side effects can occur when it is used for long periods of time or in higher concentrations. This is why hydrocortisone is not an effective long-term solution for chronic skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

How quickly hydrocortisone works

Hydrocortisone cream is not an instant fix.

When used to reduce the inflammation and itching associated with an eczema flare-up, hydrocortisone topical cream typically shows results in three to seven days after application.

Three to seven days can feel like an eternity to someone who is dealing with the severe discomfort of an eczema flare-up. The National Eczema Association recommends using a cool compress or taking a colloidal oatmeal bath to help relieve symptoms while waiting for the hydrocortisone to take effect.

Unfortunately for many, the long wait for relief is the least of the potential outcomes from using hydrocortisone.

Common side effects of hydrocortisone cream

Many people are not aware of the risks involved with using topical creams with steroids.
They are so ubiquitous and in so many products, we often forget that they are powerful drugs that taking this medication may cause side effects.

The use of steroids in general, including when hydrocortisone is used, can cause a number of possible side effects when used on various areas of skin. These adverse effects include:


When applied to the skin, hydrocortisone works by reducing the activity of the immune system, which helps to reduce inflammation and redness.
However, this also means that it can suppress the skin’s ability to fight off infection. You are more likely to contract bacterial or fungal infections if you use a hydrocortisone cream on an open wound or broken skin.
Fungal Infection on skin with itchy rash

According to the CDC, hydrocortisone cream can even make ringworm worse!

Stinging or burning 

Hydrocortisone cream can cause a stinging or burning sensation when applied to the skin. This is more likely to occur if you have sensitive skin or if you're taking hydrocortisone at a higher concentration.

Stinging Skin

If you experience this side effect when you take high doses of hydrocortisone, wash the affected area with soap and water as soon as possible.


Because hydrocortisone cream is so often recommended to relieve itching, it may seem counterintuitive to hear that it can actually cause itching. But it’s true. This is because it can disrupt the skin’s natural barrier, which can lead to dryness and cracking. This can lead to more itching and irritation of the skin.


Skin itching, scratching itchy arm

Pretty soon you could be scratching the more intense itching that the "anti-itch" cream caused!

If this happens while you are using hydrocortisone cream, call your doctor right away.


Acne is a common side effect of corticosteroids used in skincare products.

Acne on face itch irritation

Generally, this occurs as a result of the increase in oil production that corticosteroids tend to cause. Furthermore, corticosteroids can also contribute to other types of unflattering skin conditions like rosacea or hyperpigmentation.

Premature aging

The corticosteroid interrupts the production of collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid (a compound found in cellular tissue that binds water) which can lead to premature skin aging caused by wrinkles, fine lines or other signs of aging.

face wrinkles

 In other words, if you’d like to prevent wrinkles, fine lines or other signs of aging without using harmful ingredients like retinol or alcohol-based cosmetics — avoid using topical corticosteroids altogether!

Thinning of the skin 

We’ve all heard that thick skin is important, especially when dealing with criticism. Well, it’s also important to have thick skin — literally.

Corticosteroids can cause the skin to thin, which makes it more fragile and susceptible to injury. In addition, thinning of the skin can also lead to stretch marks.

Stretch Marks

 So, naturally, if you’re looking for a way to prevent stretch marks, you should avoid using topical corticosteroids.

Worsen existing conditions

Making a skin condition worse is the last thing you want when treating it. Yet these topical products can worsen symptoms of inflammatory skin condition, such as rosacea, especially in your face.

Rosacea face

If you have a history of existing skin conditions, it is important to consult your doctor about any skincare products you plan to use; especially those containing corticosteroids, as these side effects may occur.

Non skin-related side effects

If you're using this medication, hydrocortisone may increase the risk of non-skin related side effects. These can include mood changes such as depression or anxiety, or lead to an upset stomach and loss of appetite. For those with diabetes, you might find hydrocortisone may increase your blood sugar level.

If you are experiencing any negative side effects when taking hydrocortisone immediately and ask your pharmacist or doctor right away about the issues.
It's important to tell your doctor before your next dose of hydrocortisone. Keeping track of the dosage of how much hydrocortisone should be used is important. If you accidentally miss a dose, make sure to take the missed dose as soon as you remember.
A doctor may change the dose or amount of hydrocortisone, decrease your dose gradually, or have you stop taking hydrocortisone altogether. It's important to listen to the medical advice prescribed by your doctor or pharmacist, and use any medication exactly as directed according to the directions on your prescription label.
In addition, this medication can be dangerous if ingested. If someone has taken too much and is displaying serious signs such as losing consciousness or difficulty breathing, call emergency services immediately. Otherwise, contact a poison control center immediately. US residents can phone their local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

Go steroid free! 

After everything described above, it may seem pretty bleak when it comes to the available options for skincare, and long-term treatment of anti-itch medication specifically. It seems that so many of the products on the market today that are used to treat certain conditions come with a laundry list of harmful side effects.

But don't worry, there are still safe and effective ways to treat your skin without resorting to corticosteroids.

The best option available is one that is steroid-free and safe for everyday use.

Dermeleve® was developed as a direct response to the need for a safe and effective steroid-free anti-itch cream suitable for long term use, and meant to be used without the risk of side effects or negative skin reactions.

Dermeleve Cream Natural ingredients

The ingredients in Dermeleve®’s itch relief cream are all natural:

  • Ceramides: Molecules rich in lipids that retain moisture and encourage the regeneration of skin cells.
  • Hyaluronic acid: Stimulates the proliferation of cells and aids in the healing process.
  • Vitamin C&E: They help maintain the health and appearance of the skin.
  • Shea butter: Provides moisture retention to the skin.

Fast relief

Don’t wait for days to finally be free of that itch!

 Dermeleve®’s itch relief cream provides fast and effective relief from itchiness caused by dry skin, eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, hives and more.

 With Dermeleve®’s SrX-38 steroid-free formula, it is rapidly absorbed into the skin, diminishing the irritation and itching sensation within just a few minutes of application.

Dermeleve itch cream on skin

How long would you rather wait for relief- three to seven days, or just a few minutes?

Just checking. And so should you!

Check out Dermeleve® to find out for yourself, and feel what you've been missing!

Do your research about hydrocortisone side effects

In case you're not sure if your favorite products contain corticosteroids and want to confirm if they can cause side effects, check with the manufacturer directly if their products contain any ingredients that are considered systemic by the FDA (e.g., hydrocortisone 10%).

Another option would be checking the company’s ingredient list on their website and looking for names of known steroidal ingredients such as hydrocortisone 10% in the drug information listed.

Whatever direction you decide to take your skin health, we hope that this article has been helpful in making you more informed about the ingredients in your skincare products, and their potential effects on your health.

As always, consult with a licensed healthcare provider if you have any concerns about using corticosteroid-containing products on your skin, and be sure to see a doctor for medical advice about side effects that may arise.

You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

If you'd rather not deal with the risks they may cause or have to wait for the relief, we suggest you give Dermeleve® a try! Your skin will thank you!

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