Interview: “Quitting corticosteroids was my worst experience”

Sep 30 2016

In the 17 years of atopic dermatitis the long-term use of corticosteroid creams took a heavy toll on the skin and body

In the developed world atopic dermatitis is becoming an increasingly prevalent, chronic, severely itchy skin disease of infants, adolescents and adults which is often caused by allergies or genes.

Many of you are mentioning that your doctor or dermatologist prescribes a corticosteroid cream, especially if painful eczema does not want to disappear and spreads.

Corticosteroid creams have a number of side effects:

  • thinning of the horny layer of the skin
  • reduction of activity and number of sebaceous glands
  • impairment of the barrier function of the skin (after a single application!)

After a few weeks of use the possible side effects can get worse:

  • possibility of stretch marks
  • atrophy
  • reduced production of fibroblasts
  • abnormal deposition of collagen and elastin
  • thinning of the subcutaneous fat and muscle layer
  • systemic effects (particularly dangerous in young children)

The official medicine remains silent about the fact that prolonged use of corticosteroid creams may lead to physical dependence and the patient can suffer hell on earth. The withdrawal syndrome is also called the syndrome of red skin. Patients describe that feeling as “burning alive”.

Recently we got to know Maja who is raising awareness on the use of corticosteroid creams and courageously spoke about her path of quitting when she was faced with the withdrawal syndrome. 

At Hemptouch we believe that natural cosmetics can help with skin problems in a gentle and safe way. We want you to take the health of your skin into your own hands, just like Maja. Therefore, we interviewed her about the life with atopic dermatitis and her difficult experience of quitting corticosteroid cream.

Maja, when did atopic dermatitis appeared for the first time? How did the disease affect you growing up?

I had atopic dermatitis since I was about 7 years old, i.e. for 17 years. In the beginning, it is a chronic skin disease with smaller outbreaks of eczema on the joints of arms and legs, and later also on the back, chest, upper arms, thighs and other parts of the skin. Dry eczema is always accompanied by itching, which was worse when sweating, upon exposure to perfumes, dyes, some coarser fabrics, and preservatives and allergens in food.

I remember the feeling when I was as a 14-year-old girl with a friend by the sea and I hid my sore skin on the arms, chest and back. I was ashamed of the red eczema, although I never showed it. I was feeling helpless when I was literally crippled by the itching and general discomfort of the skin on numerous occasions – in school, with friends, in college, and when I was under stress due to external factors. Stress extremely worsens the situation as dermatitis is an autoimmune disease and skin problems can cause even more stress, which leads to a vicious circle of symptoms.

Until a year ago I treated my condition with emollients that were mixed for me at the pharmacy and with the regular application of corticosteroid cream to the inflamed areas of the skin. Since the treatment was prescribed by dermatologists, I believed that they will eventually heal my eczema. But the effect was only temporary and long-term these creams poisoned my skin and my whole body. What followed after I ended the treatments was 100 times worse than anything I had experienced until then.

Why have you decided to cancel the use of corticosteroids? Did they become increasingly ineffective or did you noticed any side effects on your body?

Eczema has gradually expanded to all parts of my body. When I suppress the eczema on the joints with corticosteroids, they eventually began to appear on the upper arms, and throughout the whole body. Since this has been the case practically all my life, I did not perceive it as side effects of corticosteroids. This happened only when I read the blog of a girl who has already been through withdrawal from corticosteroids. After two years of quitting with unimaginable horrible symptoms she finally had healthy skin. At that point everything had sense: I understood that with the use of creams I relieved the symptoms, but long-term the same symptoms will appear at an even larger scale. From that day on I did not put a shred of corticosteroid cream on my skin.

After ending of the treatment with corticosteroids the skin problems got even worse. Were you surprised by the state when your body showed symptoms of withdrawal?

When I was once familiar with the terms “Red Skin Syndrome” or “Topical Steroid Withdrawal” (TSW), indicating the discharge of topical steroids, I got access to many stories, blogs, support groups and other sources of information on the internet, among other things, also from the most important non-profit organization ITSAN ( Already the I knew that quitting will not be easy. But I found comfort in the fact that I did not use very potent creams and did not use them every day. Withdrawal symptoms shocked and frightened me more than I expected.

What happened after quitting corticosteroids?

After about three days of quitting red eczema started to form on the skin, which within ten days occupied all limbs of the body, and eventually spread to the back, abdomen and other parts of the body. Then a general itching started which protruded to the bones and was the result of poisoning with corticosteroids. The itching kept me up most nights of the first seven months of quitting and still keeps me up today, after ten months. The hormonal balance of my body was crushed and I felt jaded, fatigue, irritated and emotional sensible, which lasted several months. I felt cold all the time for at least four months, no matter how much I was dressed, which was due to the destruction of nerve endings in the skin. Withdrawal symptoms were also swelling of the legs, blood serum leakage due to the expansion of blood vessels in the form of a smelly yellow fluid and flaking of dead skin.

These symptoms tied me to my home for half a year. They prevented me from any movement, work, hobbies, and put me on the edge of the abyss in the emotional, mental and physical sense. Nevertheless, I believe that it was the best decision I have ever made. Although even after ten months, I sometimes have terrible itching, the symptoms gradually wear off, and I know that next summer I'll have much more freedom in my own skin. And without the use of corticosteroids.


What is your advice to people with skin problems, who got prescribed a corticosteroid cream from their doctor? People often order “magical” ointments or creams from countries outside the EU. How can they be certain that the cream does not contain corticosteroids?

I would advise them from all my heart not to use corticosteroids. I believe that would outgrow atopic dermatitis, as the dermatologists promised me if I would not have started to apply corticosteroids on my skin. Try should try natural creams, shampoos, soaps and oils, and test them for so long until they find the right products for themselves because each skin is different. They can also help themselves with nutritional supplements, baths and compresses or get tested for allergens in food to find the cause of their dermatitis.

A cream that magically works and is all natural does not exist. Therefore, they shall not order miracle creams on the internet, because there is a great possibility that the fast effective creams contain corticosteroids. If the ingredients of the cream are not listed I would not buy it, but if they are they can check the ingredients on the internet before ordering.

What is now your daily skin care routine?

During the process of quitting corticosteroids I was using natural creams, took sea salt and dead sea salts baths or baths with vinegar, and during severe attacks of itching cooled the skin with cold compresses. I also took chlorella and spirulina algae, which helped in reducing stress, regulating hormones and detoxify the body, and added ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon to food which has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.

Now, when the symptoms are much milder I still have to use a nourishing cream, because the skin is still dry and sometimes inflamed. I treat the area with seriously damaged skin with zinc paste which rapidly heals little wounds, or cream for baby's buttocks such as Sudocream, which also contains zinc.

You have been testing Hemptouch ointments for sensitive skin. Which of our products helped you the most?

Already during quitting I tried a lot of creams that were not suitable for me. I was very excited when my friend told me about Hemptouch products I tried the Ointment for irritated skin and it brought instant relief to my skin. I use it as a nourishing ointment, but I initially used it only on inflamed skin to save money. Since I can a little bit relieve the symptoms, this cream is my constant companion throughout the quitting from corticosteroids. To be honest, I am little scared if do not have this ointment in my usual stock. If I knew early on that there are natural creams that give the skin a feeling of relief and at the same time heal it (because of the presence of zinc oxide the hemp ointment has a healing effect), it would have saved me a lot of skin problems. I believe that I would outgrow atopic dermatitis if I would use this hemp ointment or similar natural preparations instead of corticosteroids already at the beginning of my disease.

We know that the lifestyle has a great impact on the health of our skin and stress is our worst enemy. Do you have any advice on how to fight stress and take care of your skin to keep it in balance as much as possible?

Quitting was my worst experience, but because of it I started to appreciate myself more. I believe that we can reduce stress with acting more in accordance with ourselves and with loving ourselves. However, we cannot completely eliminate stress. I'm trying to take time for activities and for people who mean a lot to me, I exercise and take care of my skin with creams, baths and clothing, which is suitable for the skin at that moment. Above all, I try to listen to my body more, since it always tells me when I'm doing something wrong.

We at Hemptouch believe that with the help of natural cosmetics you can take your skin’s health into your own hands. Listen to your body and start today!

Non-profit organization ITSAN for assistance in quitting steroid creams, International Topical Steroid Addiction Network:

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