Both doctors agree that because there are many different steroid creams available (and seven different categories of steroids), it's critical to visit a board-certified dermatologist instead of a primary care physician. "If a person uses too much of a steroid cream or one that's too strong for their skin, there can be complications," says Dr. Rand. "General doctors may not be aware of the specific strengths and recommendations for these products. I've also heard from patients that their pharmacists made a decision to give them a different cream based on price, and this is also a concern. Most likely, the pharmacists also aren't aware of the specifics regarding these creams. However, when used appropriately, steroid creams can be a total game changer and even help save people’s lives."
Topical steroids come in different strengths, ranging from mild to moderate, potent and very potent. Side effects are more common in high-potency prescription-strength steroid creams. Over-the-counter hydrocortisone is the lowest-potency steroid cream available, but could cause thinning of the skin if used daily for many consecutive weeks. This is especially true if steroid cream is used on thin, sensitive skin such as the eyelids, genital areas, or the folds of the skin. As a general rule, to minimize the risk of side effects, use the lowest strength preparation that is effective. Very potent steroids should only be used for short periods, whereas milder ones can be used longer.