How Does Steroids Cause Acne? Symptoms And Treatment Options

Acne is a known side effect of steroids. Steroid acne is the nomenclature for an acne-like condition occurring in individuals having a high level of circulating cortico-steroids. The usage of steroids triggers acne because the sebaceous glands of your skin manufacture and release more oils due to an increase in the level of androgen in the body from the steroids.

Steroid users most commonly develop acne on the face, back, and shoulders. Acne due to steroids is quite similar to naturally-occurring acne; but is a lot more severe.

There are two forms of steroid acne:

  1. Acne vulgaris: In this case, the use of steroids aggravates a predisposition to acne.
    The lesions are more uniform in appearance than is seen with acne.
  2. Malassezia folliculitis: In many patients, steroid acne occurs because of a proliferation of the malassezia yeasts. It is seen as itchy papules on the chest and back.

Steroid acne is characteristically seen in adolescent or adult patients who have been on a course of moderate or high dosage of oral steroids, such as prednisone or dexamethasone for quite a few weeks. They could be having a host of underlying medical conditions – they could have Cushing’s disease or are may be treated with systemic steroid drugs.

The condition is also a side effect of using anabolic steroids.

Symptoms Of Steroid Induced Acne

Acne vulgaris is seen as pimples and comedones, similar to what is seen in naturally occurring acne. The lesions are small and rather uniform.

Malassezia folliculitis is seen as pustules and papules which are red and itchy.

Treatment Options For Acne From Steroids Use

  • Keep your body, especially the acne affected area clean by washing the skin 2 to 3 times every day with a gentle cleanser. This helps get rid of surplus sebum and oils on the skin before they clog your pores. It is always good to confer with a dermatologist before using any skin care products to understand what is best suited to your skin type.
  • Only use those cosmetic products on your skin which contain no extra oils; i.e. water based ones. Always opt for water based and non-comedogenic products.
  • Discuss with your health care provider as well as your dermatologist about using retinoids to heal the acne. It is usually applied to the acne area and left overnight. Retinoids are vitamin A products which help unclog the pores and prevent inflammation from acne. They help deal with the lesions effectively and ward off against the unsightly scarring.
  • Acne vulgaris is managed with topical anti-acne drugs and tetracycline.
  • Malassezia folliculitis is managed with topical or oral anti-fungal drugs.
  • Experts recommend Tea tree essential oil to treat steroid acne as well. The Tea tree oil is decidedly beneficial and exceedingly helpful aroma oil for the successful management of acne lesions, more so, without any scar formation. Use the neat oil all over the affected area 5 to 7 times daily. Once you start seeing an improvement, reduce your frequency of application.
  • Alongside start a vitamin A, E, and C supplement. These are all ‘skin’ vitamins and will expedite the process of healing. Zinc is also indispensable for the management of acne.
  • Severe cases of steroid acne need to be managed with oral isotretinoin.