These adverse effects include skin atrophy, easy bruising, thinning of the skin, formation of telangiectasia (dilated blood vessels), stretch marks, infection, hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, hypertrichosis (increased/abnormal hair growth), acne, rosacea, cataracts and glaucoma (when used around the eyes), and some symptoms of Cushing disease. While this long list of side effects may seem like a good reason to avoid the use of topical steroids, it is entirely possible to avoid these if your physician’s instructions are carefully followed.
The most common side effect of topical corticosteroid use is skin atrophy. All topical steroids can induce atrophy, but higher potency steroids, occlusion, thinner skin, and older patient age increase the risk. The face, the backs of the hands, and intertriginous areas are particularly susceptible. Resolution often occurs after discontinuing use of these agents, but it may take months. Concurrent use of topical tretinoin (Retin-A) % may reduce the incidence of atrophy from chronic steroid applications. 30 Other side effects from topical steroids include permanent dermal atrophy, telangiectasia, and striae.
A common mistake is to be too cautious about topical steroids. Some parents undertreat their children's eczema because of an unfounded fear of topical steroids. They may not apply the steroid as often as prescribed, or at the strength needed to clear the flare-up. This may actually lead to using more steroid in the long term, as the inflamed skin may never completely clear. So, you may end up applying a topical steroid on and off (perhaps every few days) for quite some time. The child may be distressed or uncomfortable for this period if the inflammation does not clear properly. A flare-up is more likely to clear fully if topical steroids are used correctly.