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My skin flaked off and oozing blisters made water feel like acid – nobody warned me about ‘steroid cream withdrawal’

A WOMAN has shared how she was left stunned when she discovered that the oozing blisters on her face that made the water feel like acid were due to steroid cream withdrawal.

Brittany Stephens, 27, from Ottawa, Canada was first prescribed the cream to treat childhood eczema, after her skin became easily irritated by allergies to foods including eggs, dairy and nuts.

Brittany Stephens was prescribed the steroid cream to treat eczema
Withdrawl from the cream left her with oozing skin

But after using it for two years she started only applying it in the winter months to help ease the mild flare-ups her skin would have due to the cold weather.

But when she started applying it all over her body after her skin reacted to mould in her apartment she noticed eczema coming back with a vengeance.

Her skin went from having mild redness and dry patches to “burning red” and spreading down her arms, legs and face – which she describes as turning “red like a tomato”.

“It was the worst flare-up of my life,” Brittany, a supply officer, said.

“My skin turned red hot – it felt like I was on fire, despite having a bone-deep chill inside.

“I would shake constantly, had trouble with my vision and water felt like acid on my skin.

“Then the flaking started and my skin was coming off in piles.

“It hurt to move, and I started to get oozing skin and thin cuts that felt like paper cuts around my eyes and lips, which made it hard to eat.

“I was barely sleeping four hours a night because of the itch and needing to scratch – it was unbearable.”

Concerned, Brittany took to Instagram to see if other steroid cream users were experiencing similar side effects and was stunned to discover a community of people suffering from topical steroid withdrawal (TSW).

The condition involves severe symptoms experienced by long-term users of steroid creams after they stop using them – including dry, red and flaky skin which can be extremely painful.

Brittany decided to go through the uncomfortable process – hoping her skin would eventually heal and not be reliant on the steroids.

While she knew her skin was likely to get worse before it could get better, nothing could have prepared her for the months of agony that lay ahead.

During this time, Brittany’s self-esteem took a huge dip – but she had plenty of support from her family and her partner Sam, who she had met just two months before her eczema returned.


She said: “It was a struggle to look at myself in the mirror. It was hard to feel beautiful, but my partner was supportive and told me I looked beautiful regardless.

“I knew that it would get worse before it got better.

“I needed a lot of support and moved back in with my parents to help support me – some days I needed assistance getting in and out of bed, the bath, my clothes, to eat.

“I wanted it to be over in a few months and I was hopeful I’d heal quickly, but when month three then month six rolled around I knew it would be longer.”

While she was armed with new information from the online TSW community, Brittany says she was never warned of how harmful the steroid cream could be.

She said: “I was unaware of the side effects of steroids other than thinning skin and to reduce sun exposure to minimize any impacts of the steroid creams.

“It took me a year for my skin to heal from less than three months of using steroid cream.

“My skin would go through cycles of redness, flaking, oozing, scabbing – over and over, until the skin underneath finally started to heal.”

Finally, by July 2020, Brittany’s skin had calmed down and she was free of the painful condition.

She said: “I now have very mild eczema on my eyes and neck in the winter, but it doesn’t itch. My skin can be a little flaky but overall I hardly notice it and it doesn’t impact my daily life.

“Every other part of my body is clear, soft, smooth skin – something I wasn’t sure I would have again.”

Despite all she has been through, the experience has given her a newfound respect for her body.

She said: “I am incredibly proud of my body, for all it has been through, healing and its resilience to support me through life. I learned a lot about not caring what my body looked like, and the body neutrality movement.

“I hope for the day there is more research on TSW so there is less confusion, feeling alone and unsupported by the medical field.

“The people that go through this for years or with minimal support are true warriors. It is so difficult to express the true pain that it is to go through this condition.

“But I am so grateful for the connection it has brought me with my body and with those around me.”

Brittany said water felt like acid
She was stunned to discover a community of people suffering from topical steroid withdrawal

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