Despite movements like ‘Black is Beautiful”, many people still feel that a fair complexion is more beautiful. Therefore, everything from cleansers to creams to capsules and intravenous treatments to skin lightening/fairness methods continues to evolve. But some products and methods are unhealthy and do more harm than no good. Steroid-based skin lightening creams are one such alarming thing.

What are steroids?

Steroids are man-made medicines, the same as, or similar to, certain naturally occurring hormones in the body. The body produces steroids to support functions such as fighting stress and boosting growth and development. There are two main types of steroids: anabolic-androgenic steroids and corticosteroids. Anabolic steroids are different from corticosteroids and are often used without medical advice by some people to improve their muscle mass and athletic performance. On the other hand, corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory medicines used to treat various conditions. They quickly fight inflammation in your body. 

Steroids On Skin

Topical corticosteroids, which come in creams, lotions, and gels, have been used for more than six decades as an effective medication. They are used to treat skin wide range of skin conditions, including eczema, contact dermatitis, and psoriasis. Similarly, topical corticosteroids also turn down the immune system processes that trigger inflammation.

However, corticosteroids should only be used on the skin for a short period and under the supervision of a doctor, ideally a dermatologist, because long-term use can lead to severe skin damage. The side effects include acne, dryness, skin thinning, facial rash in which bumps develop around the mouth (perioral dermatitis), modified fungus infections like tinea incognito, pigmentation, excess facial hair growth (hirsutism), and photosensitivity (reactions to sunlight, caused by an immune reaction to ultraviolet rays). 

The Ugly Side of Steroid-based Skin Lightening

Corticosteroids also have a depigmenting effect that is thought of as desirable by many women especially affected by colorism. Women in Asia, Africa, and Hispanic communities where fair skin and euro-centric beauty are adored, regularly misuse topical corticosteroids to lighten the skin cosmetically. This misuse of the drug often results in steroid-dependent skin. Once the skin is addicted to steroids, it is hard to stop using them without proper medical treatments. Or it may lead to irreversible side effects in the future if continued.

Moreover, as per the recent white paper published in Endocrine Abstracts (2020), the findings suggest women who abuse corticosteroid creams for skin lightening might be at risk of developing lower baseline cortisol levels, a sign of weakened cortisol function.

Therefore, awareness about steroid creams’ side effects is a must to prevent women from compromising their unique natural complexion as well as damaging their health severely.

In India, most topical steroids are only available on prescriptions. Unfortunately, still, these restricted creams can be bought over-the-counter country-wide.  

How to avoid unsupervised steroid abuse?

  • If you are contemplating buying instant fairness or whitening cream, your friends suggest checking the ingredient list, and learning about key ingredients are always advisable. A little bit of reading goes a long way. Just google the jaw-breaker names that you are unfamiliar with. If you find ingredients like Betamethasone, Clobetasol propionate, and hydrocortisone drop the idea of using the “magic” fairness cream.

  • Or, if you are using a steroid-containing product for lighten up your skin, stop applying immediately.

When to see a professional

If you use a steroid cream for a long time and it is difficult to stop using it because you get symptoms like acne breakouts, red skin, and rashes, visit a registered dermatologist ASAP. Your doctor will slowly put you off the cream by using some substitute as the skin is dependent on the steroid.