Can I Use Topical Steroid Creams on My Face?

Long term use of topical steroid creams on the face can cause permanent side effects.

Can I Use Topical Steroid Creams on My Face?

Only certain types of anti-itch creams can be used on the face. Topical steroids are the most common type of anti-itch cream; other creams containing local anesthetics (such as those found in Lanacane cream) should be avoided due to the possibility of causing contact dermatitis.

The skin on the face is particularly susceptible to the side effects of topical steroids, and getting these medications into the eyes can result in glaucoma or cataract formation.

Therefore, only the lowest potency topical steroids should be used on the face. The smallest amount of medication should be used, and only for the shortest amount of time possible. An example of a low potency topical steroid includes the over-the-counter preparation hydrocortisone acetate 1% cream (Cortaid).

Side effects from topical steroids are most often seen on the area of skin where the medication is applied, and the face seems to be particularly prone to these side effects. Local side effects may include:

  • Thinning of the skin
  • Pigment changes (lighter or darker skin)
  • Telangiectasia (blood vessel) formation
  • Rosacea, perioral dermatitis, and acne
  • Increased susceptibility to infections of the skin
  • Delayed wound healing ability
  • Irritation, redness, burning, stinging and peeling of the skin
  • Contact dermatitis from the topical steroid itself

Alternative creams that can be used on the face include the topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs), Elidel and Protopic.

These medications are approved by the FDA for the treatment of atopic dermatitis in people 2 years of age and older. Unlike topical steroids, TCIs do not cause skin thinning, pigment changes, blood vessel formation, or striae formation, nor do they lose effectiveness with prolonged use. In addition, TCIs can be used on any skin, including the face and eyelids.

However, just like any medication, even TCIs have possible side effects.

Learn about the FDA warnings associated with Elidel and Protopic.


Boguniewicz M, Leung DYM. Atopic Dermatitis. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2006; 117(2):S475-80.

Atopic Dermatitis Practice Parameters. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2004;93:S1-21.

Chen TM, Aeling JL .Topical Steroids. In: Fitzpatrick JE, Morelli JG, eds. Dermatology Secrets. 3rd ed. Philadelphia: Mosby;2007:408-16.

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