Eczema Ointments and Creams Might Be a Big Part of the Problem

A study in Canada showed that more than 75% of the corticosteroid ointments prescribed for eczema contain potentially allergenic products. These so-called dermo corticoids should receive more attention from physicians as to their composition.



Atopic dermatitis, a type of eczema is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that is not contagious and progresses with outbreaks. It usually appears in babies in the first months of life and after disappearing it could relapse. Depending on the child, it can last from several months to several years. After a clinical examination, the doctor prescribes a treatment to remove the eczema plaques as soon as possible. This most often consists of applying ointments, creams, and lotions containing corticosteroids.

But a study by Elisabeth A. Labadie and Marie-Claude Houle, researchers at Laval University School of Medicine, warns against using some of them. Their findings published in the Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery indicate that more than three-quarters of the corticosteroid ointments prescribed in Canada for the treatment of dermatitis contain potentially allergenic products. According to them, this is equivalent to throwing fuel into the fire. The study authors came to this conclusion after listing the non-medical ingredients contained in 140 ointments prescribed for dermatitis.

Beware of parabens

They then checked whether these ingredients were included in a list of 28 ingredients with high allergenic potential, produced from the work of the U.S. Contact Dermatitis Group. Among the main findings was the fact that the 140 ointments analyzed in the study contained a total of 121 non-medical ingredients. In addition, the analyses showed that 76% of the ointments contain at least one ingredient with high allergenic potential and 43% contain two or more. The most common potentially allergenic compounds are propylene glycol (43%), parabens (28%), chlorocresol (11%) and formaldehyde-releasing agents (7%).

The former facilitates its absorption through the skin. The others are preservatives. “The presence of allergenic compounds in these ointments can have two repercussions,” says Professor Marie-Claude Houle. “First, dermatitis may not respond to treatment. So these allergens can amplify the problem. For example, dermatitis that initially affected only the knee can spread to the thigh and leg,” the dermatologist explains. However, the latter fears that most doctors and even some dermatologists are unaware of the allergenic potential of corticosteroid ointments.

The problem can be caused by the active molecule itself.

“These are drugs that are widely prescribed. It is the basic treatment for dermatitis and other skin diseases,” he adds while acknowledging that it is virtually impossible for pharmaceutical companies to make a corticosteroid ointment that does not contain allergenic elements. But according to the researcher, “there is room for improvement and physicians must pay special attention to the composition of the drugs they prescribe, whether creams or ointments.

In addition, if the patient does not respond to the treatment or if the problem worsens, consideration should be given to whether the ointment is involved. In some cases, the problem may be caused by the active molecule itself. It should be noted that too long use of a dermo corticoids can weaken the skin, reducing the thickness of its outer layer, and may even be the cause of eczema. These types of creams must be used intermittently to give a chance for the skin to rest and recover.

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