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What Is The Strongest Over The Counter Steroid Cream?

What Is The Strongest Over The Counter Steroid Cream

Strongest Steroid Cream?

Steroid cream (also known as corticosteroid cream) is a topical medication (applied to the skin) used as anti-inflammatory preparation used in the treatment of various skin conditions including irritant and contact dermatitis (sore, red, and swollen skin), insect bites, and mild to moderate eczema.

In today’s post, I will review the strongest over-the-counter steroid cream: clobetasone cream (brand name: Eumovate Eczema % Dermatitis cream).

Eumovate cream, which is available over the counter without a prescription, is classified as pharmacy-only ‘P’ medication. ‘P’ medicines can only be sold in pharmacies, including online pharmacies with a pharmacist being present at the premises.

Patients who wish to purchase Eumovate Eczema & Dermatitis cream need to request it from a pharmacy. Certain restrictions apply when Eumovate cream is sold as over the counter medication.

Eumovate Cream: Sale Restrictions

Eumovate Cream: Sale Restrictions

When sold in the pharmacy, Eumovate Eczema % Dermatitis cream is restricted in size and comes in the form of a 15g tube. The larger size of Eumovate cream and ointment (30g and 100g) tubes are licensed as prescription-only medicines and need to be prescribed by GP or another prescriber. Both Eumovate OTC and prescription-only Eumovate, contain the same active ingredient clobetasone butyrate 0.05%.

OTC Eumovate is licensed in adults and children over 12 years of age. Children under 12 years of age can use Eumovate cream only under recommendation from a doctor.
One of the main reasons against the use of steroid cream(s) is the treatment of infections, for example viral, fungal or bacterial infections. Fungal and bacterial infections which are present on the skin may be treated with an antifungal cream (with or without a steroid)  and antibiotics creams respectively. Some antibiotic infections can be treated with over-the-counter antibiotic cream.

Quick FAQ

Are steroids good for fungal infection?
Steroid creams can assist with a variety of skin issues, including ringworm symptoms like itching and redness.

The Strongest Over The Counter Steroid Cream: Other Restrictions

So far two restrictions were discussed in terms of the supply of Eumovate over the counter (age, and size of the cream).

Other restrictions related to the use of Eumovate cream:

  • Eumovate should not be applied to broken, infected, or inflamed skin.
  • Eumovate should not be applied to treat symptoms of skin conditions including viral infections, for example, herpes, chickenpox, fungal infections, or bacterial infections.
  • Eumovate should not be used to treat acne, rosacea, or pruritus when no rash is present.
  • Eumovate should not be applied to the face.
  • Eumovate should not be applied to genitals, groins, or between toes. A patient may be experiencing a fungal infection, as these are common sites for this type of infection. An antifungal cream may be more suitable in this case.

Please read the product information leaflet before using Eumovate cream.

What Can Eumovate Cream Be Used For?

Over-the-counter Eumovate can be used as a short-term treatment (up to seven days) of eczema and dermatitis (irritant and allergic) to help with symptoms of red and itchy skin.

Why Eumovate Is The Strongest Over The Counter Steroid Cream:

Steroid creams are classified as mild, moderate, potent, and very potent. Although classified as mild cream, Eumovate is the strongest steroid cream, which is available to buy without a prescription. Below is the list of some commonly available steroid creams, prescription-only (POM) and pharmacy-only (P):

Potency Active ingredient Brands Pack Sizes

P or POM

Mild Hydrocortisone 1% Various brands 15g


Mild Hydrocortisone 0.1% Locoid 30g-200g


Mild Hydrocortisone 0.1% Dioderm 30g


Moderate Clobetasone 0.05% Eumovate 15g


Moderate Clobetasone 0.05% Eumovate 30g & 100g


Moderate Betamethasone 0.025% Betnovate-RD 100g


Potent Mometasone 0.1% Elocon 30g & 100g


Potent Betamethasone 0.1% Betnovate 30g & 100g


Adopted from NICE (BNF) 2020.

The above list is non-exclusive lists. Additionally, many of the steroids creams come as combination products with antifungal (some available over the counter) and antibacterial agents (prescription-only).
The only two corticosteroid creams available without a prescription are hydrocortisone and clobetasone creams.

How To Use Eumovate Eczema And Dermatitis Cream

All steroids creams, including Eumovate, should be applied sparingly and gently rubbed into the affected area only. Eumovate should be applied once or twice daily for up to seven days.

How To Use Eumovate Eczema And Dermatitis Cream

If no improvement is seen after seven days or symptoms get worse, patients should speak to their doctor.

The same advice applies when some improvement is seen, and treatment is needed beyond seven days.

Use ‘fingertip’ as a measurement for the amount of cream you needed. Squeeze out the cream from the tube from the top of your index finger to the first crease on your finger.

Half fingertip should be sufficient to cover the area of the skin similar to the size of the palm of your hand. Fingertip is a guided unit for the application of the cream. Less cream may be needed to cover smaller areas of the skin. Apply the cream sparingly.

Quick FAQ

Can Eumovate be used on broken skin?
Do not apply the cream sparingly to regions of skin with broken skin, open wounds, or any of the following conditions: Chickenpox, shingles, cold sores, and herpes simplex are examples of viral skin illnesses.
Is it OK to put steroid cream on your face?
Steroid cream which is purchased over the counter should not be applied to the face. When prescribed a doctor may advise using steroid cream on the face.

Do You Apply Emollient Or Steroids First?

Emollients (creams or ointments) should be applied first when corticosteroids creams such as Eumovate are used together in the treatment. It is recommended to apply steroid cream 30 minutes after an emollient (NICE, 2018).

Eumovate Cream: Possible Side Effects

Eumovate Eczema & Dermatitis Cream is generally well tolerated. Very rarely Eumovate can cause hypersensitivity reactions manifested by reddening of the skin, rash, itchiness, and local skin burning. Other infrequent side effects may include allergic reactions and worsening of the symptoms (eMC, 2017).
With prolonged topical corticosteroid can cause:

  • thinning of the skin
  • bruising
  • skin discoloration
  • stretch marks
  • telangiectasias, ‘spider veins formed due to dilated or broken blood vessels under the skin.

In addition to their anti-inflammatory actions, topical corticosteroids reduce the amount of collagen in the skin. Collagen has various functions in the body. Collagen is responsible for the elasticity of the skin and supports its structure.
Steroid creams should not be applied to the face (unless recommended by a doctor). Long-term use of steroids on the face can result in damaging side-effects mention above. Additionally, topical steroids can contribute to the development of acne.

When used, topical corticosteroids can degenerate an outer layer of the skin where follicles are located. Follicles have various roles in the skin including the attachment of the hair into the skin.

Damage to the follicular epithelium (skin) increases the number of fats (free fatty acids) which promotes bacteria growth and consequently may result in comedogenesis – the formation of blackheads (Coondoo et al, 2014).

It is essential to follow the recommended duration of seven-day treatment unless a doctor gives different advice. Patients should also remember to apply steroid cream thinly.

The Strongest Over The Counter Steroid Cream: Alternative Options

I briefly mentioned that Emovate (clobetasone) and hydrocortisone 1% cream are the only two steroid creams available without a prescription from the pharmacy.

Hydrocortisone 1% is a weaker corticosteroid; however, it is licensed for the treatment of the same skin conditions with an addition of skin bites management.

Many restrictions that apply to Emovate also apply to hydrocortisone 1% cream.

The age restrictions for the use of hydrocortisone 1% are lower with licensed use for children over ten years of age.
Parents of children or patients who are not sure about the treatment needed for the skin conditions should seek advice from a pharmacist who may be able to identify a condition, recommend the most appropriate treatment (for example antifungal treatment), or refer to a GP when necessary.
Patients who use steroid cream in the management of eczema should use emollients alongside to treat their skin dryness. Learn more about over the counter anti-itch creams for the management of dry, irritated and itchy skin.


Steroid creams are useful and effective in the management of different skin conditions, including eczema and dermatitis. Eumovate is the strongest over the counter steroid cream available without a prescription.

Patients need to follow instructions on the use and stick to the recommended duration of the treatment to reduce the chance of getting side effects.


Can you buy Hydrocortisone 2.5% over the counter?
In the UK the only hydrocortisone cream available over the counter is 1% hydrocortisone cream.
How long can I use topical steroids?
When purchased over the counter steroid cream are used for one week only. When prescribed, GP may recommend a longer treatment duration, very often by recommending intermediate use.
What steroid cream is safe for face?
The steroid cream should not be applied to the face unless prescribed by a doctor.
Which is better ointment or cream?
Ointments are 'thicker' (more oily) in their formulation than cream, therefore they give longer and more occlusive effects, which makes them better than creams. However, ointments are more oily, therefore their use may have its practical limitations.
Is it OK to put steroid cream on your face?
Steroid cream which is purchased over the counter should not be applied to the face. When prescribed a doctor may advise using steroid cream on the face.

Coondoo A, Phiske M, Verma S, Lahiri K. Side-effects of topical steroids: A long overdue revisit. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2014;5(4):416-425. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.142483 Available at: https://dx.doi.org/10.4103%2F2229-5178.142483 Accessed on 30/08/2020

Rathi, S., 2006. Abuse of topical steroid as cosmetic cream: A social background of steroid dermatitis. Indian Journal of Dermatology51(2). Available at: https://go.gale.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA149748681&sid=googleScholar&v=2.1&it=r&linkaccess=abs&issn=00195154&p=AONE&sw=w Accessed on: 28/07/2020