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Posted December 14, 2003

"Herbal" Eczema Creams Found to Contain Potent Steroids

A recent British study reported that 20 of 24 creams used to treat eczema in children were found to illegally contain unlabeled amounts of corticosteroids.

All children were patients at the pediatric dermatology clinic at Birmingham Children’s Hospital; the creams were submitted for analyzation by parents after reporting they helped improve eczema symptoms in their children. Researchers discovered seven creams contained the synthetic corticosteroid clobetasol propionate (5 labeled “Wau Wa Cream--herbal cream for the treatment of eczema,” and 2 labeled “Muijiza cream--contains extract of Wau Wa root); 13 of the 17 unlabeled or unnamed herbal creams contained corticosteroids. All parents believed the creams were herbal, free from steroids, and safe to use on their children, according to the researchers.

“Topical corticosteroids are important in the management of childhood eczema and when used appropriately, are safe,” the researchers wrote. However, improper use of topical steroids can cause harmful damage, including irreversible skin atrophy (especially on the face), and the spread of eczema, causing the condition to worsen upon withdrawal and stunting children’s growth, according to researchers.

The creams were obtained from different sources, including Indian and Pakistani herbalists in surrounding areas, mail order and family or friends overseas (Pakistan and Tanzania).

The study was published in the Dec. issue of Archives of Disease in Childhood (88, 12:1056-7, 2003).