The use of topical corticosteroids as depigmenting agents is not uncommon. They are often used in conjunction with other whitening creams to lighten the appearance of one’s complexion and achieve a particular aesthetic or even tone.
There are questions, however, about the safety of topical corticosteroids when used in this capacity. Among these concerns is the fact that such use may lead to secondary adrenocortical insufficiency.
To determine if such creams are, in fact, dangerous to the health of the individuals using them, researchers conducted a study in Egypt.
Researchers aimed to evaluate the impact of topical corticosteroid use as whitening creams on serum cortisol levels. To do this, healthy Egyptian women were recruited to participate in the study conducted at Ain-shames University hospital.
These women, 45 in total, regularly practiced the application of whitening creams for a minimum of three months. To act as a control group, 45 healthy women who did not use whitening creams were included.
Multiple measurements were taken throughout the study to establish a baseline and track any changes that may occur. These measurements included blood pressure, blood glucose, BMI, early morning basal serum cortisol level, serum K, and serum Na.
Most of the measured levels remained statistically insignificant between the topical corticosteroid users and the control group. One measurement, however, did show a difference that was highly statistically significant.
Out of the 45 women in the topical corticosteroid group, seven (15.6%) had low serum cortisol levels. No women in the control group shared this characteristic.
Perhaps even more fascinating was the correlation between how the whitening creams were used and low cortisol levels. There was a significant difference between those with low to no use of topical corticosteroids and those with frequent, prolonged, high-quantity use.
The researchers concluded that the abuse of whitening creams is, in fact, linked to adrenal gland insufficiency. This link was especially strong when high-potency topical corticosteroids were used.
It is important to note, however, that researchers used the word “abuse,” leaving a sliver of uncertainty regarding limited use of such whitening creams. Further, this study involved only a small number of women, meaning that more research would be beneficial in confirming the findings shown here.
The study also does not address topical corticosteroid use among other demographics, meaning that further studies must be conducted to determine the impact of whitening cream abuse on other people groups.