What to Know About Desonate (Desonide)

Uses, side effects, and dosages

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Desonide is a topical corticosteroid that is commonly prescribed to treat eczema (atopic dermatitis). It's one of the lower-strength options when it comes to common topical steroid medications, just a step stronger than over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. 

Desonide is available as a cream or foam, and only by prescription. It's approved for use in anyone over 3 months old. The drug is sold under several brand names, including:

  • Desonate
  • Verdeso
  • DesOwen
Woman with Eczema
BSIP/UIG / Getty Images 

Uses

Desonide is used topically to relieve itching, swelling, and irritation of the skin caused by various types of dermatitis. It's one of the more common topical steroids prescribed. Because of its mild nature, it is appropriate for children.

Steroid medications, including desonide, can suppress the immune system (although it's not well understood how they do so). They also activate substances in the skin that lessen inflammation, itching, and redness.

In general, an overactive immune system, allergies, or a combination of them is thought to contribute to the development of eczema. Suppressing the immune system helps resolve symptoms.

The type of desonide you use has an impact on how quickly you see results.

TYPE TIME
Cream
Ointment
Lotion
2 weeks
Gel
Foam
4 weeks

Before Taking

Before using desonide, tell your doctor:

It's especially important that your doctor knows about your skin conditions, as desonide can make certain dermatological problems worse.

Precautions

Unless instructed otherwise by your provider, don't apply desonide on the eyelid or near the eye. Avoid getting the medication in your eyes, mouth, or open cuts or sores. 

The medication should be used cautiously in young children, because they are much more sensitive to the effects of topical steroids than adults.

Dosage

Desonide comes in different formulations and may be prescribed in different dosages. Follow your doctor's instructions for applying the cream or foam exactly.

Topical steroids are generally measured in "fingertip units" (FTUs). The measurement is what it sounds like: A fingertip unit is equal to the amount of medication dispensed on the index finger from the tip to the first joint. This will give an approximate 0.5-gram dose.

The amount needed depends on the area of skin affected. For example, 1 FTU is generally enough for a baby's face and neck, while an entire adult arm and hand will need about 4 FTU. Never exceed the recommended amount, no matter the severity of your symptoms.

Don't put a bandage over desonide unless your doctor says to, as that can increase absorption and increase your risk of side effects. When using this medication in a baby's diaper area, don't cover it with a tight-fitting diaper or plastic pants. Talk to your pediatrician about the best type of diaper for when you're using this medication on your child.

How to Take and Store

Desonide is most commonly applied in a thin layer to the affected area twice daily. Desonide is not a substitute for a moisturizer, so it is widely recommended that individuals with eczema also use a moisturizer daily.

Desonide should be stored at room temperature. Shake the product before using and wash your hands after application.

You should not use this medication for more than four weeks in a row. In general, all topical steroids should be used for the shortest amount of time possible to avoid serious side effects.

Side Effects

Steroids are associated with some serious side effects that you and your doctor should consider. However, topical steroids are less likely to cause side effects than oral steroids, especially when oral steroids are used long-term.

As with any medication, you should be familiar with possible side effects and let your doctor know if you have any that are bothersome or severe.

Common

The most commonly reported side effects of desonide cream are:

  • Burning, peeling, dryness, redness, or irritation where it's applied
  • Itching
  • Acne
  • Headache
  • Rash (tiny red bumps) around the mouth
  • Folliculitis (inflamed hair follicles that appear as small red bumps or whiteheads)
  • Hypopigmentation of the skin (loss of color)

Severe

Call your doctor or get emergency medical attention right away if you develop:

  • Severe rash
  • Signs of infection at the application site (redness, swelling, pus)

Hormonal Effects

Topical steroids can be absorbed into the bloodstream and interfere with your body's ability to produce its own steroid hormones. This is more likely to occur in children than adults, and it can slow their growth. The risk is greater with stronger steroids and also increases if you apply the medication to broken skin.

To avoid this, always use the lowest-strength topical steroid needed to control your condition, and use it for the shortest amount of time possible. Always notify your doctor immediately if you have any severe side effects and get emergency medical treatment if necessary.

Warnings and Interactions

It is possible to have a serious allergic reaction to desonide. Wash the medication off immediately and get medical help if you experience:

  • Extreme redness and itching accompanied by swelling
  • Difficulty breathing (wheezing)
  • Any other symptoms that seem concerning

There's little scientific research on the use and safety of this medication during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor before starting this medication if you're pregnant or nursing, and contact your physician immediately if you become pregnant while using this medication.

If you take the drug metyrapone for problems with the adrenal glands, which naturally produce corticosteroids, you shouldn't take or use any corticosteroid medications, such as desonide, until you have blood tests to monitor metyrapone's effect, as they can skew the results.

Warning: Flammable

The foam formulation of desonide can catch fire. Don't smoke while you apply it or for a short time afterward, and say away from open flames.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I apply desonide to my face?

Yes, you can apply desonide to your face. That's because it's one of the milder topical corticosteroids on the market. You shouldn't use stronger steroid products on your delicate facial skin.

Is desonide better than hydrocortisone?

Yes, studies have shown that desonide is more effective than hydrocortisone, which is a weaker corticosteroid.

A Word From Verywell

Skin conditions are not just uncomfortable and annoying, they can be embarrassing, as well. You don't just have to live with them, though. A conversation with your doctor can start you on the path to the right treatment for clearing up your skin and making you feel better.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Highlights of prescribing information: Desonate (desonide) gel 0.05%. Updated July 2014.

  2. National Eczema Association. Eczema causes and triggers.

  3. Chong M, Fonacier L. Treatment of eczema: corticosteroids and beyondClin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2016 Dec;51(3):249-262. doi:10.1007/s12016-015-8486-7

  4. Guichard A, Humbert P, Tissot M, Muret P, Courderot-Masuyer C, Viennet C. Effects of topical corticosteroids on cell proliferation, cell cycle progression and apoptosis: in vitro comparison on HaCaTInt J Pharm. 2015;479(2):422-429. doi:10.1016/j.ijpharm.2014.12.066

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