How topical corticosteroids work

Topical corticosteroids work by reducing inflammation and helping to control the symptoms of several skin conditions, such as atopic eczema and dermatitis.

Topical corticosteroids:

  • block some of the effects of the chemicals used by the immune system to trigger the process of inflammation
  • make the immune system less sensitive, meaning it is less likely to cause symptoms that affect the skin
  • help to regulate the production of new skin cells – this can be useful in treating certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis, where new skin cells are produced too quickly
  • narrow the blood vessels in the affected areas of skin – reducing the amount of inflammatory chemicals sent to the skin


To understand how topical corticosteroids work, it is useful to learn more about the biological processes that cause inflammation.

When a part of your body becomes infected, your immune system responds by flooding the area with infection-fighting antibodies. The antibodies limit the spread of infection and kill off the virus, bacteria or fungus responsible for the infection.

However, this process causes the affected area to become swollen, warm and, in the case of your skin, reddened. This is known as inflammation.

Inflammation is usually a helpful biological process. However, there are times when the immune system malfunctions and triggers inflammation even though there is no infection. This ‘misfiring’ of the immune system is the main cause of many common skin conditions, such as atopic eczema and psoriasis.

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