Prescriptions written for topical steroids should include explicit instructions about where and how often to apply the preparation, and the body areas where use must be avoided. Pharmacists should ensure these directions are included on the dispensing label. Prescribers should bear in mind that patients may keep unused or leftover corticosteroid skin preparations for some time after they are prescribed and thus forget the original indication or instructions for use. The prescribing of unnecessarily large quantities should be avoided. Patients should be warned not to share their topical steroid preparation with other people as this may result in unsafe application to unsuitable areas such as the face, as well as the potentially inappropriate treatment of undiagnosed skin conditions.
Hydrocortisone and betamethasone are examples of low- and high-potency topical corticosteroids. Topical corticosteroids have been ranked in terms of potency into four groups consisting of seven classes. Class I topical corticosteroids are the most potent and Class VII are the least potent. Efficacy and side-effects are greatest with the Class I ultra-high-potency preparations which should only be used for limited time periods (2-3 weeks). Representative preparations by group are listed in the table below. These groups may vary depending on the formulation and concentration and should be considered approximate. In general, ointments are more potent than creams or lotions. Potency is also increased when topical corticosteroids are used under occlusive dressings or in intertriginous areas.