Pharmacokinetics: The extent of percutaneous absorption of topical corticosteroids is determined by many factors including the vehicle and the integrity of the epidermal barrier. Occlusive dressings with hydrocortisone for up to 24 hours have not been demonstrated to increase penetration; however, occlusion of hydrocortisone for 96 hours markedly enhances penetration. Topical corticosteroids can be absorbed from normal intact skin. Inflammation and/or other disease processes in the skin may increase percutaneous absorption.
Topical steroids have been both extensively used and found to be very effective for the treatment of eczema. Concerns about side effects both on the skin and systemically has increased acceptance of the new steroid free alternative. Worries about long term use of a cortisone cream making the skin less responsive to treatment is a potential risk and is occasionally a concern. This may not occur with the topical immunomodulators but longer term studies will be needed to confirm this.
The new topical immunomodulators (TIMS) provide a significant new choice in the treatment of atopic eczema. They are used as a steroid-sparing medications. There is a discussion whether the immunomodulators should be used alone as monotherapy. Good evidence is available to show that using a potent topical cortisone twice a week only will reduce and may prevent eczema flares. If this was combined with intermittent use the immunomodulators this might further reduce flares. However some TIMs may reduce flares on their own.
For locations such as the face, folds and anterior upper chest the topical immunomodulators seem to be effective, well tolerated and free of significant side effects other than initial and minimal burning.
The following charts simplify some of the anti-inflammatory options: