What to Know About Desonate (Desonide)

Uses, Side Effects, Dosages

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Desonide is a topical corticosteroid that is commonly prescribed to treat eczema (atopic dermatitis). It is on the mild end of the spectrum (lower strength) when it comes to common topical steroid medications, just a step above over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. 

Desonide is available as a cream or foam, and only by prescription. It is approved for use in individuals three months of age and older. The drug goes by several brand names, including Desonate and Verdeso.

Woman with Eczema
BSIP/UIG / Getty Images 


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 and can be used on the face.

The actual mechanism by which desonide works is unknown. In general, an overactive immune system, allergies, or a combination of both are thought to contribute to the development of eczema. Steroid medications can suppress the immune system, which helps to resolve symptoms.

Before Taking

Before using desonide, tell your doctor about all allergies (such as to foods, animals, or dyes) you may have and if you have diabetes, immune system problems, or other health issues.

Be sure to note if you have skin conditions such as rosacea, perioral dermatitis, or folliculitis, since desonide can make certain dermatological concerns worse.

Precautions and Contraindications

Unless instructed otherwise by your provider, don't apply desonide on the eyelid or near the eye.

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


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.

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. Avoid getting the medication in your eyes, mouth, or open cuts or sores. 

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 carry some risks, prompting many to wonder if their use is truly necessary. While steroids applied topically can have side effects that should be considered, they are usually not nearly as severe as steroids that are taken by mouth (especially long term).


The most commonly reported side effects of desonide cream are headache and burning or irritation at the site where the medication is applied.

Other side effects may include:

  • Thinning of the skin where applied (more likely with prolonged use)
  • Acne breakouts where the medication is applied
  • Itching
  • Folliculitis
  • Hypopigmentation of the skin in the area where the medication is applied


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 using topical steroids than in adults, and the risk is increased depending on the strength of the steroid used and if you apply the medication to broken skin.

To avoid this, always use the lowest-strength topical steroid needed to control your condition for the shortest amount of time possible.

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), or any other symptom that seems concerning.

There is little scientific research about using this medication while pregnant or breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor before starting this medication if you are pregnant or nursing, and contact your physician immediately if you become pregnant while on this medication.

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  2. Schmitt J, Apfelbacher CJ, Flohr C. EczemaBMJ Clin Evid. 2011 May 17;2011. PMID:21609512 

  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. Drugs.com. Desonide topical side effects: common, severe, long-term. Updated December 2018.

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