Woman Claims Her Skin's "Addiction" to Topical Steroids Made Her Psoriasis So Much Worse

Topical steroids have long been relied upon by dermatologists as an effective short-term prescription for psoriasis flare-ups, and that's exactly what one English woman's doctors prescribed over the course of her 25-year battle with the skin condition. She tells British publication Mirror, however, that after using the prescription every day for three months straight, her skin became "addicted" to the treatment and left her with even more redness, swelling, and flaking — and it got to the point that she didn't want to leave the house.

"After three months using it, I noticed my face was full of psoriasis with small gaps of normal skin, and it had never been to that extent ever," Katy Jackson told Mirror, which shared several photos of the 44-year-old with burn-like, red splotches covering most of her face. Although she had previously used topical steroids "on and off" over the years, stress triggered by her father's heart surgery led her to try using it every day for an extended period.

Seeing her symptoms at their worst prompted her to do some online research. After discovering the International Topical Steroid Addiction Network, she felt confident that her skin had become addicted to topical steroids and that she was experiencing what the organization calls Red Skin Syndrome. Jackson felt her only option was to stop using topical steroids to treat her psoriasis. But that didn't achieve the relief she was hoping for.

"When I realized there wasn't anything I could do but go cold turkey, I didn't imagine for one second that three and a half years late,r I still wouldn't be cured," Jackson said, explaining that the first few post-steroid months were her worst ever. "I would wake up so swollen. I looked like I had been beaten-up. I couldn't eat at times as the skin was falling off my lips, and anything [that] touched it would burn. When it was red, raw, and oozing, I looked like an acid attack victim. [One] client recoiled when she saw me opening the door to her, and said 'Sorry, I thought you were in a fire.'"

In addition to rude reactions from people she encountered, she recalled a "tight and plastic feeling where I couldn't move my face" that looked shiny. "The first four months was hell on earth. My life was a misery." However, Jackson has no intention of ever using topical steroids again because she feels her skin's "addiction" contributed to her condition.

New York City-based dermatologist Shari Marchbein says that what Jackson calls an addiction is actually tachyphylaxis. "It's when you basically build up an immunity or have a decreased response to a medication, often after long-term use," she tells Allure. "Using topical steroids long-term (i.e. for decades) is potentially dangerous and not advocated by dermatologists. However, for mild psoriasis and for short-term use, they can be incredibly helpful and are safe in moderation."

Marchbein also stresses that steroids should not be used on the face for more than a week at a time, as they can cause stretch marks, atrophy (severe thinning of the skin), and even cataracts or glaucoma.

"I was never told about the risks of topical steroid creams," Jackson told Mirror. "I was told to use it sparingly, but not that I shouldn't use it for long periods of time. I was prescribed as much steroid cream as I wanted." And now, as she finally starts seeing somewhat clearer skin, she says she "wouldn't advise anyone using them for a long period of time."

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