Steroid-sparing properties of emollients in dermatology

Skin Therapy Lett. 2014 Jan-Feb;19(1):5-10.


Topical corticosteroids (TCS) and topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs) are very effective treatments in inflammatory dermatoses, but carry risks with long-term use. TCS are associated with cutaneous atrophy and tachyphylaxis and TCIs can be irritating and contain a black box warning of an increased risk of cancers including lymphoma and non-melanomatous skin cancers. Nevertheless, they are appropriate treatments for inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis (AD) and should be used more often with disease flares and less as maintenance therapy. Given the associated risks of long-term continuous use with these pharmacologic agents, alternatives are needed with similar anti-inflammatory and barrier repair properties that can be used indefinitely without risk. Some over-the-counter (OTC) ingredients such as colloidal oatmeal and petrolatum, as well as anti-inflammatory prescription moisturizers (medical device creams), have demonstrated efficacy with little complications in skin barrier repair and symptom relief in steroid-responsive conditions. With regimented application, these non-drug options are safe and effective and can limit the longterm continuous use of TCS or TCIs.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Calcineurin Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Ceramides / therapeutic use
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / drug therapy
  • Dimethylpolysiloxanes / therapeutic use
  • Emollients / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Petrolatum / therapeutic use
  • Skin Diseases / drug therapy*


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Calcineurin Inhibitors
  • Ceramides
  • Dimethylpolysiloxanes
  • Emollients
  • Petrolatum
  • dimethicone