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Topical Steroid Dependence: 4 Coping Strategies for a Better Quality of Life

topical steroid dependence

Few things are as puzzling as your skin condition worsening despite heavy steroid use. This, in a nutshell, is described as topical steroid dependence.

The body gets used to the topical steroid dose and needs progressively higher doses to get the same relief.

Eventually, even higher doses of topical steroids stop being effective.

The frustrating cycle of topical steroid dependence means that your skin learns to function only with the help of steroids. Without them, symptoms often reappear, rebounding worse than ever before. 

Additionally, prolonged use of topical steroids may damage the skin barrier, making your skin more susceptible to infections and other conditions, such as acne, excessive hair growth, rosacea, and color changes.

Nevertheless, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Finding alternative coping strategies can help you gain back your healthy skin, break the cycle of dependence on topical steroids, and give you a better quality of life.

Today, we’ll look at:

  • Achievable coping strategies that will help you reduce topical steroid dependence
  • How the right natural skin care products form a crucial part of your coping strategies
  • Why it’s important to focus on your mind and heart as you improve your skin

1 - Taper off Topical Steroid Use With Professional Healthcare Guidance

applying topical steroid on elbow eczema

It’s obvious, but worth stating, that you should never quit topical steroid use cold turkey. Doing so can lead to severe topical steroid withdrawal (TSW) symptoms, such as skin weeping, flaking, burning, and pain.

Instead, it’s crucial to get the guidance of your healthcare provider on how to reduce gradually the frequency and strength of steroid use.

The specific plan will be based on the:

  • Length of time you’ve used the topical steroid
  • Strength of your topical steroid
  • Severity of your skin condition
  • Response to treatment

Often, a healthcare provider will combine your tapering off regimen with other remedies to support your skin’s recovery. These may include:

  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors: Block the chemicals which trigger flare-ups
  • Moisturizing emollients: Soothe, soften and increase moisture in the skin
  • Phototherapy: Specific light wavelengths that reduce inflammation in the skin
  • Lifestyle changes: Healthy diet and exercise improve skin health from the inside

From the list above, the only ones you can take into your own hands are your moisturizing regimen and habit changes.

Let’s delve deeper into the ideal hydrating skin care regimen to help you ease out of topical steroid dependence.

2 - Embrace a Steroid-Free Skin Care Regimen

Emu Joy’s Soothe My TSW Kit
Soothe My TSW Kit (for Topical Steroid Withdrawal)

The key to going steroid-free is to replace steroids with non-toxic skin care products to soothe the symptoms of dryness, itchiness, and skin irritation.

Ideally you’re looking for:

  • Gentle cleansers that have no harsh ingredients, like sulfates, which strip all the natural oils from your skin
  • No fragrances, alcohol, or colorants since such additives often irritate the skin
  • No petroleum or mineral oil since both disrupt the skin’s natural barrier, causing dryness and irritation

The Soothe My TSW Kit from Emu Joy contains all the natural products you need to keep your skin gently cleansed and moisturized.

I have searched for relief for 6 years … I have been using the kit for a week … on dry skin all over… no symptoms, period…”
- Danelle W

Beyond products, how you carry out your skin care steps also matters greatly.

Let’s look at the steps required to incorporate these soothing products into your regimen:

  1. Cleanse your skin with lukewarm water. Hot water isn’t ideal as it strips the natural oils from your skin, causing dryness and irritation.
  2. Use a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser formulated for dry skin, such as Emu Oil Soap.
  3. Avoid scrubbing. Instead, gently massage the cleanser into your skin.
  4. Rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water.
  5. On damp skin, generously apply a fragrance-free emollient, such as Emu Joy 100% pure Emu Oil, which soothes red, flaky, and irritated skin.
  6. To achieve longer lasting hydration, opt for a thick moisturizer, such as Soothe My Skin. It penetrates and hydrates the skin while forming a protective barrier on top of it.
  7. Reapply your moisturizer throughout the day to keep your skin hydrated and protected, especially in areas prone to flare-ups. Portable moisturizers, such as the On The Go Skin Soother Stick, can help you stay ahead of discomfort.

Now that you’ve got your steroid-free skin care regimen down, what other coping strategies can you implement?

3 - Change Your Lifestyle to Cope With Topical Steroid Dependence

smiling man and woman hiking

Many skin conditions that respond to topical steroids are lifelong, with active and inactive periods. They’re also usually linked to inflammation. Steroid dependence and inflammation can be managed by incorporating healthier habits into your lifestyle.

Inflammation isn’t bad, it’s your body’s natural way of protecting itself.

Challenges arise when your immune system remains in fight mode and begins attacking the body. This constant state of inflammation is at the root of conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and lichen sclerosus.

What new habits can you add to your lifestyle to reduce inflammation and achieve a better quality of life?

Eat a Healthy Diet

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to an anti-inflammatory diet. What triggers a flare up in one person may be the saving grace for another.

As you embark on a healthier, anti-inflammatory diet, the best thing you can do is to keep a food journal. When you document your meals and symptoms, patterns will emerge, linking certain foods to your wellbeing.

Your healthcare provider may recommend allergy testing to identify potential triggers in your daily life.

This is handy for discovering problematic food additives that may be difficult to pinpoint: for example, sulfites in dried fruits and wine or nitrites in processed meats.

In the two tables below, we’ve compiled lists of several foods to incorporate and foods to avoid.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods To Eat Nutrients They Contain To Fight Inflammation
Fatty fish, e.g. salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring Rich sources of omega-3s, EPA, and DHA with strong anti-inflammatory properties
Berries, e.g. raspberries, strawberries, blueberries Contain antioxidants called anthocyanins
Cruciferous vegetables e.g. broccoli, kale, cauliflower Rich in sulforaphane, a sulfur-based antioxidant
Tree nuts e.g. walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios Rich sources of anti-inflammatory vitamin E and omega-3
Green Tea Contains EGCG, a stronger antioxidant than vitamin C
Inflammatory Foods To Avoid Why They Cause Inflammation
Highly processed foods e.g. white bread, white pasta, pastries Release excess sugar into the body which binds to and compromises collagen in the skin
Alcohol Causes overproduction of endotoxins which trigger inflammation
Added sugar in processed food and drinks Excess sugar becomes excess body fat, which is highly inflammatory
Saturated fats and trans fats, e.g. in red meat, cheese, margarine, fast food Increases bad cholesterol (LDL) in the body, triggering inflammation
Gluten Triggers an inflammatory response in those with gluten sensitivity

Consider the lists above as more of a guide rather than a strict rubric. After all, everyone is different, and you need to learn which triggers your body responds to.

Stay Active

Speaking of bodies, you can never go wrong putting your body to work.

Exercise has massive benefits for those suffering from chronic skin conditions. Even a 20-minute exercise session reduces inflammation.

Keep in mind that for exercise to work for your skin:

  • 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise is better than intense workouts, which actually increase inflammation in your body. Excessive sweating can irritate and dry out your sensitive skin, worsening the symptoms of psoriasis and eczema.
  • Do low intensity workouts and strength training exercises, such as light jogging, walking, casual cycling or rowing, and slowly lifting weights.
  • Swim laps or do water aerobics in a saltwater pool. The salt may help to slough off dead skin and soothe irritated skin.
  • Shower immediately after you exercise to avoid further irritation from sweat or pool chemicals. Generously moisturize your skin while it’s still damp.
  • Always wear sunscreen if you’re exercising outside. Even a minor sunburn can aggravate your skin.

the more you sleep the more hydrated

Practice Good Sleep Habits

Sleep completes the healthy habits trifecta because your skin performs most of its restoration during sleep.

Sleep for 7–9 hours every night, at a consistent bedtime. The more you sleep, the more hydrated and elastic your skin will be as it gets ample time to heal.

Consider investing in bedding that’s more gentle on your skin and won’t absorb all the oils from your skin or cause friction—think silk sheets.

4 - Tend to Your Emotional Health for a Better Quality of Life

smiling woman at the beach

Coping with topical steroid dependence and restoring health to your skin can take anywhere from a few weeks to years. It requires consistency. To stay the course, you need a strong mental and emotional base.

While emotional and mental support look different for everyone, there are common practices for maintaining mental and emotional wellbeing:

  • Talk about what you’re going through, either with a close family member, friend, or therapist. Additionally, joining a support group can validate your experiences and give you a sense of community.
  • Manage stress, which can aggravate your skin condition. Practices such as meditation, mindfulness, and yoga focus on breathing and mental relaxation, which can help break the circuit between stress and inflammation.
  • Moderate exercise also contributes to stress relief and mental wellbeing thanks to the endorphins (feel-good hormones) it produces.
  • Prioritize self-care with activities that spark joy and bring comfort to your life. This can be as simple as watering your plants, reading, or doing your skin care regimen.

Get Healthier Skin and a Better Quality of Life With Emu Joy

Topical steroid dependence is a complicated phenomenon that requires a combination of coping strategies to overcome. As your healthcare provider helps you taper off steroid use, you’ll also need to support your skin’s health with good habits.

A healthy anti-inflammatory diet coupled with sufficient sleep and exercise will put your skin on the path to recovery. The crowning glory is a skin care regimen using natural, non-toxic products to soothe and moisturize your skin.

Speed up the healing of topical steroid syndrome without harsh chemicals; buy emu oil and let its natural healing properties gently nurture your skin back to health. Try our Soothe My TSW Kit, formulated with emu oil to provide relief from irritation, itching, and pain.

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