Prescription-Strength Steroid Creams Sold Without Prescription

By Carolyn Crist

(Reuters Health) - Although the U.S. requires prescriptions for topical steroids with more than a 0.5% concentration, much stronger and potentially harmful steroid creams are not hard to find without a prescription, doctors report.

The products are easily available on websites such as and and in local stores catering to immigrants and expats from other countries, the study authors write in a letter to JAMA Dermatology, published online November 1.

“We were alarmed when we realized how easily accessible these products were online and that there was no indication there could be serious repercussions,” said a coauthor of the letter, Dr. Cynthia DeKlotz of Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, DC.

“Patients need to know that any over-the-counter product - such as herbals, pills, vitamins, creams and supplements - could be harmful,” she told Reuters Health in a phone interview. “Use them with caution and take time to discuss them with your healthcare providers.”

DeKlotz and her colleagues write about their experience with a patient who had recurrent atopic dermatitis that was aggravated by a bacterial infection.

The doctors suggested treatment with a 0.1% triamcinolone cream, which didn’t have much effect, so the patient decided on her own to switch to a triple combination cream called Funbact-A. She bought the cream from a local store that carried products from African countries, and it contained prescription-strength betamethasone, a class 3 topical steroid, according to DeKlotz.

“Her family was from an African country, and she said it was a product they used at home and could get at local stores in the DC area,” DeKlotz said. “We realized this could be a cultural norm and there weren’t concerns about serious side effects.”

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