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Managing the Pain and Discomfort of Topical Steroid Withdrawal: 4 Soothing Tips

topical steroid withdrawal

Topical steroid withdrawal (TSW) is a condition that occurs when someone uses topical steroids for a lengthy period, becomes dependent on them, and then stops using them.

This results in symptoms that develop a few days later, ranging from red, inflamed skin to insomnia and anxiety for some people.

The good news is that there are ways to relieve these symptoms as your skin embarks on its healing journey. Today we’ll teach you how to successfully apply these tips:

  • Using emu oil to soothe and moisturize the skin
  • Applying cold compresses to relieve inflammation
  • Using medication to relieve itching and help you sleep
  • Meditating and receiving counseling to calm your mind

First, let’s look at the symptoms of topical steroid withdrawal and their effect on an individual.

The Pain and Discomfort of Topical Steroid Withdrawal

Topical steroid withdrawal symptoms cause pain and discomfort because the inflammation experienced is usually more intense than the skin’s previous condition.

The most common symptom is an itchy rash with a burning sensation. It can appear anywhere, though it most often appears on the face, legs, and arms, and looks like red sleeves from far, hence the nickname red sleeve.

Other symptoms include:

  • Flaky skin that sheds
  • Wrinkling of the skin
  • Hair loss

The pain and discomfort can result in lack of sleep and low self-esteem, negatively impacting some people’s work and social life.

The physical and psychological symptoms caused by topical steroid withdrawal should be addressed in order to start the healing journey.

This journey includes soothing the skin and the mind, and there are several ways to do it:

Tip 1 - Adopt a Steroid-Free Skin Care Routine

child recovering from topical steroid withdrawal

A steroid-free skincare routine involves the use of natural products to soothe the affected parts and reduce the risk of another topical steroid flare.

One such natural product is emu oil, made from the fat of emu birds. It contains a minimum of 70% unsaturated fatty acids that include oleic, linoleic, and linolenic acids. These fatty acids have moisturizing properties that reduce pain and inflammation.

A study of 27 patients was conducted to determine the effects of emu oil in the treatment of xerotic eczema and psoriasis. The oil was applied twice per day.

The table below showcases the results, including which symptoms responded positively to emu oil, the length of time it took, and the percentage reduction of symptoms.

Eczema And Psoriasis Symptoms Time Reduction In Symptoms
Pruritus (itchy skin) 15 days 60%
Pruritus 30 days 100%
Scaling (flaky skin) 15 days 60%
Scaling 30 days 80%
Erythema (rash on skin) 15 days 30%

The study results showed that emu oil benefitted all 27 patients. There was a significant improvement in psoriasis and eczema.

Emu oil resembles the natural oil on our skin. As such, it penetrates the seven layers of our skin without any barrier and relieves pain and irritation.

Emu Joy’s emu oil products are a natural and effective solution to eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, rosacea, lichen sclerosus, and other skin conditions. Our products are made from certified organic emu oil, rich in omega-3, omega-6,  and omega-9 fatty acids, known for their powerful anti-inflammatory properties and ability to penetrate deep into the skin for maximum healing benefits.

Our products are free from parabens, sulfates, mineral oil, petroleum, and fragrance and are easily absorbed, resulting in minimum side effects.

Our Soothe My TSW Kit contains three natural products that all help ease the pain and discomfort caused by topical steroid withdrawal.

Soothe My TSW Kit (For Topical Steroid Withdrawal)

natural products in the emu oil kit
Soothe My TSW Kit (for Topical Steroid Withdrawal)

The Soothe My TSW Kit contains several products made with natural ingredients that can be used in a regular skincare routine.

The products can be used on their own or alongside other daily skincare products. The kit includes:

  • A gentle soothing cleanser
  • Pure Emu Oil
  • Emu Oil Soap

Let’s explore these products in more depth to find out how they’ll improve your condition.

Pure Emu Oil

Pure Emu Oil
Pure Emu Oil

Pure Emu Oil is a natural moisturizer that will give you relief from red, itchy skin, psoriasis, dermatitis, and other skin conditions.

Pure Emu Oil is used as a:

  • Facial moisturizer: Massage it at night and improve your skin’s texture
  • Body moisturizer: Apply to damp skin after showering to provide moisture
  • Scalp moisturizer: Apply to a flaky scalp to soothe and promote hair growth

“My hair feels less weak than before and it doesn’t break after shampooing. Very important as I have weak hair.”
— Verified Buyer

Improve the effectiveness of other skin care products, such as body lotions and foot creams, by adding a drop of Pure Organic Emu Oil before application to enhance absorption.

Emu Oil Soap

Emu Oil Soap
Emu Oil Soap

Emu Oil Soap is the perfect addition to your skincare routine. It contains all-natural ingredients that will cleanse, soothe, and hydrate your skin.

You’ll benefit from this soap if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Dry, sensitive skin
  • Psoriasis
  • Rosacea
  • Dermatitis
  • Eczema
  • Lichen sclerosus

The emu oil in this soap serves as a moisturizer. It also contains calendula flower petals which have antibacterial and antifungal properties to repair skin tissues, help prevent infection, and soothe the skin.

Our Emu Oil Soap has several benefits:

  • Suitable for all skin types
  • Cleanses acne-prone skin without clogging pores
  • Made using the cold-pressed method to last longer

“I purchased this soap for lichen sclerosis and it has really helped. Since then I find I’m using less steroid ointment.”
— Verified Buyer

topical steriods are categorized

Tip 2 - Use Cold Compresses

Cold compresses are an alternative way of alleviating the itching and burning caused by topical steroid withdrawal.

They’re sold as frozen pads or pouches, or you can make your own at home. All compresses numb the affected area, providing relief from itching and swelling.

To make a do-it-yourself cold compress, put ice in a ziplock bag, then wrap it with a towel to act as a barrier between the skin and ice. A barrier is necessary because if the skin comes into direct contact with ice, it can suffer ice burn which damages tissues.

Apply the cold compress for at least 20 minutes per session. Repeat after an hour until you find relief.

Tip 3 - Take Over-The-Counter Pain Medication

If the topical steroid withdrawal is accompanied by pain, over-the-counter medication is another option to help alleviate physical pain.

Medications such as antihistamines will help you sleep if the itch is unbearable, and antibiotics will help to relieve inflammation.

Tip 4 - Soothe Your Mind Through Counseling, Meditation, and Exercise

Counseling, meditation, and exercise are effective ways of overcoming anxiety and depression caused by topical steroid withdrawal.

  • Counseling: A counselor will help you accept yourself as you are in your present condition as you move towards healing.
  • Exercise: Working out releases feel-good hormones (endorphins) that boost your mood and keep you happy.
  • Meditation: During meditation, focus is redirected inward and away from your negative feelings, thereby eliminating stress and calming your mind.

Understanding Topical Steroid Withdrawal

woman with red skin syndrome

Topical steroid withdrawal, or red skin syndrome, is a rare disorder that develops after using topical steroids for prolonged periods and then stopping the application.

This syndrome doesn’t affect everyone who uses topical steroids.

In order to understand topical steroid withdrawal in depth, it’s important that you first learn how topical steroids work and what topical steroid dependence is.

What Are Topical Steroids and How Do They Work?

Topical steroids (corticosteroids) are medications that are applied to the skin to reduce inflammation triggered by skin conditions such as, eczema, psoriasis, and contact dermatitis.

They’re a man-made version of the naturally existing corticosteroid hormones in the body. Natural corticosteroids work by hindering toxins that cause inflammation and tissue damage.

In the same way, topical corticosteroids block the chemicals released by the body when fighting bacteria and toxins, thus preventing inflammation of the skin.

Topical steroids are categorized into strengths ranging from mild, moderate, potent, and very potent. They’re available in various forms, including:

  • Gels
  • Creams
  • Solutions
  • Mousses
  • Aerosols
  • Tapes and bandages

Examples of commonly used topical steroids include hydrocortisone, triamcinolone, fluocinonide, and clobetasol.

Topical Steroid Dependence and Withdrawal

Topical steroid dependence occurs when the body develops an addiction to topical steroids, usually after you’ve used them for a long time or in large quantities.

The body becomes tolerant of the medication and begins to depend on it, requiring a stronger dose or an increase in the frequency of application.

If the user stops usage abruptly, they may experience topical steroid withdrawal.

Symptoms vary with individuals. For example, the skin may peel or develop pus-filled bumps. These symptoms often prompt the user to continue with the treatment to keep the symptoms under control, leading to further dependence.

Topical steroid withdrawal is more prevalent in these situations:

  • Prolonged daily use without taking breaks
  • Use on sensitive areas such as the face 
  • Using without tapering
  • Frequently using topical steroids of high potency

As a rule of thumb, use low-strength topical steroids for no more than three months and high-strength ones for no more than three weeks.

Topical Steroid Withdrawal Is Manageable

Topical steroid withdrawal is a skin condition that affects the skin, but it can also cause depression brought about by low self-esteem.

The good news is that symptoms are manageable and can be resolved if you take the necessary steps to minimize pain and discomfort, which are crucial to enjoying your work, social life, and sleep.

You can try switching to all-natural skincare products, applying cold compresses, and using other medications.

Symptoms will eventually end. In the meantime, the tips we’ve provided will help you manage your topical steroid withdrawal.

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