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Is desonide safe for your face? The risks and benefits

This prescription ingredient is used to treat conditions like dermatitis and psoriasis.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 26, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
Applying Desonide
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 26, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Navigating skincare concerns—particularly those of a more complex nature—can often feel overwhelming. Conditions like psoriasis and skin rashes often require targeted, effective treatments that only a licensed medical provider can prescribe. One such treatment is desonide, a topical corticosteroid that addresses various skin conditions. It’s often used on the body, but you may be wondering: Is desonide safe for your face?

Here, we’ll delve into what desonide is, the skin conditions it can treat, and, most importantly, the risks and benefits of using desonide on your face. Let’s get into it!

What is desonide?

Desonide is a type of topical corticosteroid, a class of drugs that mimic the effects of naturally occurring steroids in the body. Topical corticosteroids, like desonide, are synthetic versions of these hormones, designed to deliver their beneficial effects directly to the skin.¹

Topical corticosteroids are available in various forms such as creams, ointments, or lotions. No matter which form you use, they all are intended to reduce skin inflammation, swelling, and redness. They also help to alleviate itchiness, a common symptom associated with these skin concerns.²

Desonide has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since the 1970s, cementing its position as a reliable treatment for dermatological conditions. However, as a prescription-only medication, it must be used under the guidance and direction of a healthcare provider. This ensures appropriate use and minimizes the potential risk of adverse side effects.

Compared to other available topical corticosteroids, desonide is considered a low-potency medicine. While it is effective in treating skin disorders, its lower strength reduces the likelihood of certain side effects—such as skin thinning.³ This makes it a suitable option for treating sensitive areas of the body, such as the face, or for conditions that require only a mild level of treatment. 

Despite its low risk for side effects, desonide, like all medications, should be used only as directed by your medical provider.

How is desonide used for skin treatment? 

Topical corticosteroids, such as desonide, are widely employed in dermatology to treat various inflamed or itchy skin conditions,⁴ these include:

  • Seborrheic dermatitis⁵ 

  • Atopic dermatitis⁶

  • Psoriasis

  • Contact dermatitis⁸ 

By decreasing your body's immune system’s response to these conditions and decreasing inflammation, desonide can alleviate symptoms like redness, swelling, itching, and discomfort.⁹

It's important to note that while desonide is effective in managing certain skin conditions, long-term use is not typically recommended. The safety of desonide has not been established after four consecutive weeks of use.¹⁰ Chronic use of topical steroids may cause thinning skin and irritation, so if these symptoms arise, consult your healthcare provider for advice.¹¹

Skin Cream on a Green Background

Is desonide safe to use on your face? 

Desonide is generally safe to use on your face when applied according to medical instructions. However, there are some basic precautions that you should follow to get the best results possible and minimize adverse effects. 

Before applying desonide, thoroughly wash your hands and your face to eliminate any potential irritants or contaminants from your skin that could interfere with the medication. 

While applying, particular care should be taken to avoid contact with your eyes. If accidental contact does occur, immediately rinse your eyes with water and seek medical attention if necessary.

Additionally, it's important not to cover the treated area with a bandage unless specifically instructed by your healthcare provider.¹² Doing so can impact the absorption of the drug into your body, potentially leading to side effects. 

Donna McIntyre, a nurse practitioner at Curology, states, “Overall, desonide is considered a safe medication for facial application when used responsibly and under the supervision of a healthcare professional. Be sure to follow the instructions from your healthcare provider, ask questions if you're unsure, and seek professional medical advice if you notice any adverse reactions!” 

The risks of using desonide on your face 

It’s important to remember that many medications, including desonide, carry the risk of some side effects or allergic reactions. Always talk with a healthcare provider about your individual risks and benefits of starting any new medication. 

Low-potency corticosteroids, like desonide, are generally less likely to cause adverse effects than stronger ones. However, despite their relative safety, they can occasionally trigger local reactions at the site of application. Some people may experience effects such as:¹³

These reactions are more likely to happen when you use desonide for prolonged periods of time. Also, it's generally recommended to steer clear of using any type of topical corticosteroid if you have a skin infection in the area being treated. The anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties of topical steroids can interfere with the healing process of the infection.¹⁴

Desonide may not be appropriate for use at all times of life. For instance, the use of desonide during breastfeeding hasn’t been deeply studied; however, researchers think that it’s unlikely that short-term use would affect a nursing baby as long as the medication is used as directed.¹⁵ 

It’s still best to talk with your OB/GYN about any medications that you want to use while you’re breastfeeding. They can provide personalized advice considering your individual circumstances and health history.

Treat your skin to a personalized routine

Desonide is a topical corticosteroid that’s used to treat inflamed, itchy skin conditions, such as psoriasis or dermatitis. Since these are not conditions Curology treats, consult your local healthcare provider for more information about desonide or other treatment options.

For other skin conditions, such as acne, rosacea, or signs of aging, consider consulting with one of the licensed dermatology providers at Curology. Founded in 2014 by a board-certified dermatologist, Dr. David Lortscher, MD, Curology strives to offer accessible and effective skincare. 

We help take the guesswork out of your skincare routine—our licensed dermatology providers work with you to examine your skin, assess your skincare goals, and create a custom treatment plan for you, complete with a personalized prescription formula to address your skin concerns. 

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Does desonide cream thin the skin?

Side effects of desonide cream may include skin atrophy or thinning of the skin. This results in a loss of connective tissue when a topical corticosteroid is used too often in the same area, resulting in:¹⁶

  • Redness

  • Burning sensation

  • Broken blood vessels

Thinning of the skin can be minimized by using desonide as directed by your prescriber. Skin atrophy may also reverse over time if you stop using topical corticosteroids in the affected area.¹⁷

How long can you use desonide?

Unlike other medicines that can be used on an as-needed basis, topical corticosteroids are typically prescribed for a specific amount of time, usually from two to four weeks.¹⁸ If your skin condition hasn’t improved in that time, you should stop using desonide and talk to your healthcare provider. Using topical corticosteroids for longer periods of time can increase your risk of experiencing adverse effects.¹⁹

Is desonide stronger than hydrocortisone?

Desonide and hydrocortisone are both topical corticosteroids. In the United States, topical corticosteroids are ranked into one of seven classes depending on their effects on the skin, with class I being superpotent and class VII being least potent.²⁰

Desonide is considered a low-potency topical corticosteroid (class VI), while hydrocortisone can be low or medium potency (class IV through class VII), depending on its strength.²¹ They have similar indications and risks of side effects.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework, so you don’t have to: 

  1. Gabros S, et al. Topical Corticosteroids. StatPearls. (2023, March 7).

  2. Hodgens A, and Sharman T. Corticosteroids. (2022, July 26). 

  3. Gabros S, et al. Topical Corticosteroids. StatPearls. Ibid.

  4. Gabros S, et al. Topical Corticosteroids. StatPearls. Ibid.

  5. Kircik LH. Treatment of scalp and facial seborrheic dermatitis with desonide hydrogel 0.05%. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (February 2009).

  6. Trookman NS and Rizer RL. Randomized Controlled Trial of Desonlde Hydrogel 0.05% versus Desonide Ointment 0.05% in the Treatment of Mild-to-moderate Atopic Dermatitis. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (November 2011).

  7. Gabros S, et al. Topical Corticosteroids. StatPearls. Ibid.

  8. Gabros S, et al. Topical Corticosteroids. StatPearls. Ibid.

  9. Gabros S, et al. Topical Corticosteroids. StatPearls. Ibid.

  10. SkinMedica. Desonate™ (desonide) Gel 0.05% Prescribing Information. (n.d).

  11. Ference JD and Last AR. Choosing topical corticosteroids. Am Fam Physician. (2009, January 15).

  12. Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals. DESONATE® (desonide) Gel 0.05% Prescribing Information(July 2014).

  13. Gabros S, et al. Topical Corticosteroids. StatPearls. Ibid.

  14. Gabros S, et al. Topical Corticosteroids. StatPearls. Ibid.

  15. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Desonide. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed®). (2021, January 18).

  16. Gabros S, et al. Topical Corticosteroids. StatPearls. Ibid.

  17. Gabros S, et al. Topical Corticosteroids. StatPearls. Ibid.

  18. SkinMedica. Desonate™ (desonide) Gel 0.05% Prescribing Information. Ibid.

  19. Ference JD and Last AR. Choosing topical corticosteroids. Am Fam Physician. Ibid.

  20. Gabros S, et al. Topical Corticosteroids. StatPearls. Ibid.

  21. Gabros S, et al. Topical Corticosteroids. StatPearls. Ibid.

Donna McIntyre is a board-certified nurse practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

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