What Are The Side Effects of Topical Hydrocortisone Cream? - Featured image


Updated February 11, 2024

When we think of steroids, the first thing to come to mind might be muscle-bound bodybuilders or athletes. We've all heard the scandals of their use to enhance performance unfairly.

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

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

Steroid pills and syringe

On the other hand, Corticosteroids are found in many skin care products. They are a type of steroid naturally produced by the adrenal gland. They are often used to treat inflammatory conditions like allergies, asthma, and arthritis. It is also possible to manufacture synthetic corticosteroids. These can be used in creams, ointments, and injections to treat psoriasis and eczema.

Corticosteroid-containing skincare products may seem harmless because they're so widely available. But this is untrue.

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. There are a surprising number of reasons why you should be very wary of the many side effects of hydrocortisone.


Steroids everywhere 

Regarding steroids in skincare, it seems like they're in everything these days. Hydrocortisone can be found in over-the-counter itch creams and anti-inflammatory products. Clobetasol propionate, a stronger type of corticosteroid, is available by prescription. It is typically used in treating more severe skin conditions such as psoriasis. 

While hydrocortisone can be used safely for short periods, repeatedly applying it to the skin can cause redness and itching.  

Using hydrocortisone for an extended period can also lead to long-term side effects. These include skin thinning, peeling skin, stretch marks, easy bruising, and changes in pigmentation.   

Prolonged use can also lead to adrenal suppression, 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.

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

Corticosteroids are commonly found in prescription creams. They are commonly used in treating atopic dermatitis (e.g., hydrocortisone 10%) or psoriasis (e.g., tacrolimus 2%).

Many lower-cost skincare products contain natural corticosteroid ingredients. These ointments or lotions use hydrocortisone, dexamethasone, or betamethasone as their active ingredient.

So, are corticosteroids in skin care products harmful to you? Before diving deep into that question, let's understand how they work.

Cortisone vs. Hydrocortisone

Most people have heard of cortisone, but many don't know there are two types of this medication – cortisone and hydrocortisone. Both steroid hormones can treat various conditions. Each have different strengths and durations of action.

Cortisone is a natural steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal gland. Hydrocortisone is a synthetic version of this hormone. Both treat inflammation and allergic reactions and regulate 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 obtainable in OTC form. Cortisone tablets are only available by prescription.

Why take hydrocortisone cream?

Topical steroid hydrocortisone cream treats and reduces itching and inflammation. This includes symptoms 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. 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 severe side effects can occur when used for long periods or in higher concentrations. Hydrocortisone is not an effective long-term solution for chronic skin conditions.

How quickly hydrocortisone works 

Hydrocortisone cream is not an instant fix. 

Hydrocortisone topical cream typically shows results three to seven days after application. These results include the reduction of inflammation and itching associated with an eczema.

Three to seven days can feel like an eternity to someone 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. These measures are 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 of using hydrocortisone.

Common side effects of hydrocortisone cream

Many people are unaware of the risks of using topical creams with steroids. They are so ubiquitous, and in so many products, we often forget that they are potent drugs that taking this medication may cause side effects.

The use of steroids in general can cause several possible side effects when used on various areas of the skin. Adverse hydrocortisone side Effects include: 


When applied to the skin, hydrocortisone reduces the immune system's activity. This helps 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 using 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 are taking hydrocortisone at a higher concentration

Stinging Skin

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


Hydrocortisone cream is often recommended to relieve itching. So it may seem counterintuitive to hear that it can cause itching. But it's true. This can disrupt the skin's natural barrier, leading 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 using hydrocortisone cream, call your doctor immediately.


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

Acne on face itch irritation 

Generally, this occurs due to the increase in oil production that corticosteroids tend to cause. Furthermore, corticosteroids can contribute to other unflattering skin conditions like rosacea or hyperpigmentation.

Premature aging

The corticosteroid interrupts the production of collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid. This can lead to premature skin aging caused by wrinkles, fine lines, or other signs of aging.
face wrinkles

Avoid using topical corticosteroids altogether if you'd like to prevent wrinkles, fine lines, or other signs of aging.

Thinning of the skin 

We've all heard that thick skin is essential, 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 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 conditions. These include rosacea, especially in your face.

Rosacea face

Suppose you have a history of existing skin conditions. In that case, you must consult your doctor about any skincare products you plan to use. This is especially true of those containing corticosteroids, as these side effects may occur.

Non-skin-related side effects

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, hydrocortisone may increase your blood sugar level. 

There may be other effects not listed here. Talk to your doctor or ask your pharmacist if you are experiencing any adverse side effects to hydrocortisone. It's especially important to tell your doctor right away before your next dose of hydrocortisone, or before stopping the drug on your own. 

Keeping track of the dosage of how much hydrocortisone should be used is essential. If you accidentally miss a dose, make sure to take the missed dose as soon as you remember. If you don't remember until the next dose, skip the missed dose.

A doctor may change the dose or amount of hydrocortisone. They may decrease your dose gradually or have you stop taking hydrocortisone altogether if there are drug interactions with other medications. It's essential to listen to the medical advice your doctor or pharmacist prescribes. Always use any medication exactly as directed and meant to be used according to the directions prescribed by your doctor.

In addition, this medication can be dangerous if ingested. Call emergency services immediately if someone has taken too much and is displaying severe signs. Signs include losing consciousness or difficulty breathing. Otherwise, contact a poison control center directly. US residents can phone their local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

Go steroid free!

It may seem bleak regarding the available skincare and long-term anti-itch medication options. So many products on the market today that treat specific 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 corticosteroids.

The best option available is steroid-free and safe for everyday use. Dermeleve® was developed as a direct response to this need. Hydrocortisone is used as the first option for many patients. They should not be taking hydrocortisone unless it's absolutely necessary. Even then, it. should only be used for short periods of time on specific areas of skin. Consumers need a safe and effective steroid-free anti-itch cream suitable for long-term treatment. They should be free to feel good without the risk of side effects or adverse 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. It doesn't matter if the itch is from dry skin, eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, hives, or other. 

    Dermeleve®'s SrX-38 steroid-free formula is rapidly absorbed into the skin. It starts 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.

    You should know whether your favorite products contain corticosteroids. If you're unsure if you're taking hydrocortisone, check with the manufacturer to see if they have any ingredients considered systemic by the FDA (e.g., hydrocortisone 10%).

    Another option would be checking the company's ingredient list on their website. Look for names of known steroidal ingredients in the drug information listed.

    We hope this article has helped inform you about the ingredients in your skincare products. As always, consult with a licensed healthcare provider. They can assist with any concerns about using corticosteroid-containing products on your skin. 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! 

    Want to learn more about this subject? Check out this video on our YouTube channel!


    Q: What is hydrocortisone and when is it used?

    A: Hydrocortisone is a steroid medication that is used to treat certain conditions such as skin rashes, arthritis, asthma, and allergic reactions.

    Q: What are the common side effects of using hydrocortisone?

    A: Common side effects of using hydrocortisone include weight gain, fluid retention, high blood pressure, and mood changes.

    Q: How much hydrocortisone can I use in a day?

    A: The usual recommended dosage is to apply hydrocortisone cream or ointment to the affected area of the skin up to 4 times a day.

    Q: What are the adverse effects of taking high doses of hydrocortisone?

    A: Taking high doses of hydrocortisone can lead to serious side effects such as osteoporosis, diabetes, and adrenal gland problems.

    Q: Can I use hydrocortisone for a long period of time?

    A: It is not recommended to use hydrocortisone for a long period of time without consulting a doctor, as it can have negative effects on your health.

    Q: What are the signs of adrenal gland problems when using this medication?

    A: Signs of adrenal gland problems include extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, and darkening of the skin.

    Q: Does hydrocortisone have any impact on height and weight?

    A: Prolonged use of hydrocortisone can affect a person's height and weight, especially in children.

    Q: What should I do if I experience skin rashes while using hydrocortisone?

    A: If you experience skin rashes or any other adverse effects while using hydrocortisone, consult your doctor immediately to assess the situation.