Skin: Eczema/Red Skin Syndrome/Topical Steroid Withdrawal

"The most recent dermatologist - who I was told was one of the best in Sydney -started off by saying that TSW is a “load of rubbish, and doesn’t really exist.” I was so upset when she told me to just go back on steroids."
Bev. Australia. 2012

Human skin has many functions and sensory receptors

skin structure
Fig. 1. The skin's structure and multiple functions.

Figure 1 shows how highly complex our skin structure is. It is mainly the outer layer of the skin that suffers most from topical steroid damage.

In time, the skin becomes thinner, reducing its protective and many other functions shown in the picture. When the patient tries to stop using the steroid, withdrawal effects such as red skin, pain, weeping and infection can quickly follow. Continued use of topical steroids simply aggravates these symptoms and worsens the damage.

Damage to or thinning of the skin by topical steroids, therefore leaves us open to infection, pain, inflammation (red skin) and addiction to the drugs themselves.

When you consider that important skin functions such as sensation, body temperature control and protection from infection can be compromised by topical steroids, one wonders why these drugs are even available.

skin structure and immune cells
Fig. 2. Vulnerability of human skin to infection.
  • A key protection from infection by immune cells
    In this illustration, you can see that immune cells are located (blue arrow), very close to the skin surface. They are located there to prevent the entry of infectious bacteria and other organisms into the body. Because topical steroids readily damage or destroy these protective cells, the skin can be left open to infection.

About topical steroids and the damage they can do

Topical steroids were first introduced in 1951, when they were seen to rapidly "heal" eczema by rapidly reducing itchiness, inflammation (redness), and eliminating the eczema rash. Hailed as a breakthrough for treating eczema (and many other skin conditions) the drugs spread globally. However, it was not long before it was realised that they could be highly addictive, which made dependency difficult to overcome or control. 

Often, bright red skin areas appear, particularly on the head and neck, as shown in Figure 3. This became known as the "red skin syndrome".

Read about adverse effects of topical steroids (Wikipedia).

red skin syndrome healed with wheatgrass
Fig.3. Red skin syndrome (severe), recovered with wheatgrass extract.

This patient suffered severely from topical steroid withdrawal for several years. As well as "bright" redness and constant pain, she suffered marked fluid loss from her leaking skin. It took a year (online) to wean her off the drugs by using wheatgrass extract. As you can see, her skin recovered completely. (Fig. 3.)

While wheatgrass extract has proven itself effective for helping many thousands of sufferers reject topical steroids completely, some "TSW experts" encourage patients to "go cold-turkey" instead. Unfortunately, they invariably suffer considerable pain and other severe withdrawal symptoms. This approach, when pain is often severe, with infected skin scaling, cracking and weeping, is to my mind, inhumane. It can also be dangerous due to suicidal risk.

The usual medical approach to TSW

The orthodox medical approach is to reduce inflammation with oral steroids such as prednisolone. However, severe rebound symptoms may occur if the drug is stopped abruptly or reduced, possibly requiring hospitalisation. Addiction to these drugs is possible, and common. They might help ease pain, but do nothing to heal TS damaged skin. Successful medical management  may take several years of medical suprevision.

Although there is no "quick fix" to TSW, perseverance with wheatgrass extract will help relieve pain and in due course, restore damaged skin as shown in Figure 1. Recovery may take six to twelve months or longer, but wheatgrass extract can shorten this time significantly.

How wheatgrass extract can help overcome topical steroid withdrawal

As the skin gradually thins due to continued topical steroid use, it becomes increasingly prone to infection and inflammation. Also, pain receptors located in the skin are laid bare which can cause severe pain. Continued use ultimately damages the skin's ability to protect the body from bacterial and other infections which must then be treated with antibiotics. (More drugs and potential side effects.) Light application of wheatgrass extract - once weekly or even less - and perseverance, can do much to reduce withdrawal symptoms of pain, redness, skin cracking etc. It may take a year or even more (don't forget, the skin is severely damaged), but I have seen it work many times. Ultimately, the skin recovers.

If hospitalisation is required, continued use of wheatgrass extract can help restore damaged skin when combined with other treatments. It is very safe, and can even be used for oral condtions. It will take time, approximately 6 to 12 months, for the patient to regain a fairly normal life.

In short, aim to eliminate topical steroids and restore all skin functions to normal.

Finally, compared with the "cold turkey” approach often recommended by non-medical "experts" the wheatgrass extract approach will assist the patient towards recovery. However, there is no "quick fix", because almost invariably, the topical steroids have done major damage. Also, wheatgrass extract is a far more humane appoach than drugs or "cold turkey". It has helped many patients overcome their addiction.

How to treat TSW with wheatgrass extract

Although fresh wheatgrass juice may assist healing of TSW, Dr Wheatgrass Skin Recovery Spray made from a potent wheatgrass concentrate, is considerably more effective.

1Topical use (for the skin): Apply just a little Dr Wheatgrass Skin Recovery Spray over the worst affected areas only, no more than once a week - and persevere. Overtreating is wasteful and unnecessary. Many years of éxperience have proven that "less works best".

Do not expect an overnight "cure". It often takes considerable patience and courage (for both patients and carers) to overcome the symptoms of topical steroid withdrawal. Recovery from severe topical steroid damage could take anything from two or three months to a year. Try to persevere.

2. To strengthen the immune system, take wheatgrass juice or Dr Wheatgrass Supershots – half a teaspoonful (2.5ml) daily. Again, don’t overtreat.

Some practical advice:

For infants and children: Avoid soap and baths as much as possible as they remove the skin's natural oil which is so important for recovery and protection from bacteria and other micro-organisms. Preferably, wipe the skin with a warm, damp, soap-free flannel.

Adults: Each day without TS is a major victory. Mark your calendar for 12 months and tick off the days. You may or may not be fully recovered by then, but you will be well on the way.

Please note:

  • TSW IS A SERIOUS MEDICAL PROBLEM and should be managed by a medical practitioner. Withdrawal symptoms are frequently severe, so this process should never be attempted without adequate supervision. (Read American dermatologist Dr. Marvin Rapaport's view on this topic.)
    My wheatgrass extract approach will not immediately stop withdrawal symptoms, (neither will anything else) but in time it will restore the steroid-damaged skin.
  • GRADUAL REDUCTION OF TOPICAL STEROIDS This is another approach, but it requires regular monitoring and review by a medical professional. I have used this method successfully, but in combination with wheatgrass.

POSTSCRIPT: Wheatgrass and other cereal grasses have been the subject of considerable clinical and laboratory research since the 1930’s. My own clinical experience has shown how effective it can be for treating many other conditions.

Case Study: Infantile eczema recovered by wheatgrass extract

Note: Many topical steroid addictions begin during infancy. Avoid using topical steroids on children at all costs.

Figure 1. Note the damaged skin on the elbow of this infant after only 2 months’ use of topical steroids.

Figure 2. The same elbow after three-weeks' treatment with wheatgrass extract only. This child was fortunate. Had the TS not been stopped and replaced with wheatgrass, he may well have become TS-addicted.

topical steroid withdrawal child
Fig. 1. Topical steroid skin damage. Note wrinkled, scaling. inflamed red skin.
topical steroid withdrawal child cured
Fig. 2. Significant skin improvement after 3 weeks application of wheatgrass extract.

The majority of juveniles outgrow eczema by the time they turn 20. If they are still using TS by then, they may become addicted  for life. Ironically, patients are being “treated” to overcome side effects caused by drugs (TS) meant to improve their skin which seems rather absurd. Instead, attempts should be made to wean them off these drugs as soon as possible. Often, stronger steroids are introduced at this stage to help prevent withdrawal effects, but this only aggravates the addiction.

Topical steroids (TS) do a lot more damage than “thin the skin”. In fact, many children – even elderly adults – suffer from the side effects of these drugs, such as addiction and the pain suffered due to TS withdrawal when attempts are made to stop them.


"Elephant skin" is restored almost to normal by wheatgrass extract (2 Cases)

Elephant skin: This patient battled topical steroid withdrawal symptoms on and off for about 30 years. During that time she developed thick "elephant skin" over both elbows - a common complication of prolonged topical steroid use considered to be "irreversible". Application of wheatgrass extract over the affected skin for two months shows significant improvement. Note the deep ridges that have reduced significantly in size.

wheatgrass heals topical steroid damaged skin
30 years of regular topical steroid damage restored by wheatgrass extract in 2 months.
Topical steroid withdrawal 5 years later
Follow up photo taken 5 years later. Note full recovery from topical steroid-caused “elephant skin".

Overnight drainage of fluid retention: This patient suffered for several years from grossly swollen legs and arms due to topical steroid use that apparently interfered with her skin's blood and lymphatic circulation. (Fig. 4.) She applied wheatgrass extract regularly for several months along with several other skin applications, but although her skin condition improved, the gross swelling remained.

Then, more as an afterthougt, her daughter persuaded her to stop ALL skin applications (moisturisers etc.) except the wheatgrass extract. About two weeks later, the swelling in the "before" pics disappeared overnight. When she woke that morning her bed was soaked through due to fluid loss from her legs. As shown in the photographs, her eczema recovered completely. (View detailed account.)

It appears that wheatgrass extract has the ability to signal skin abnormalities to the brain, which then responds accordingly towards "normalisation".

topical steroid withdrawal swollen leg
topical steroid withdrawal swollen arm