10 Tips to Help You Save on Your Skin Meds

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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Do you use a prescription for rashes, acne or rosacea, or other skin conditions? Then you know that those creams and ointments can cost you. If there’s ever a time you should be angry at the cost of a medication, here it is.

How can you keep your costs down? Can you just use an over the counter mild steroid instead? Does it matter if you use a cream or ointment? Well, here is what do you need to know, and some tips to help you save money on your topical steroids.

  1. Is it just me? Nope. Skin disorders are the number one reason folks in the U.S. visit the doctor. Surprising isn’t it?
  2. Why such a rip off? Prices for even the generic topical steroids have risen over the past few years. This is because only a few companies make most generic creams and ointments in the U.S. They can set the market price. Not fair, right?
  3. Strength can make a difference. There are low, medium and high potency steroids and your doctor will make a decision about which one you need based on what you have going on. The higher potency steroids can be more expensive.
  4. Form matters. The base—whether a cream, gel or ointment—determines the rate at which the active ingredient is absorbed through the skin. The same exact medication will be stronger in an ointment than a cream. Know this.
  5. Most often prescribed are creams, because they may be used in nearly any area.
  6. Creams are white and somewhat greasy. Creams are good for creases (groin, rectal area, and underarms), and have a drying effect, which is good if you have a wet oozing rash.
  7. Ointments are greasy and have little or no water so they are best for lubrication. Ointments are good for drier skin rashes—and most importantly, are absorbed than creams, which means they are more potent (stronger).
  8. Gels contain water and alcohol so they also have a drying effect. They are good for wet, oozing rashes like poison oak or ivy.
  9. Saving dough. Common topical steroids like fluocinolone (Synalar) and triamcinolone (Kenalog) have differences in price between creams and ointments. You can’t just switch, because one is stronger than the other, but make sure your doctor knows why they want you to have an ointment or cream, for example.
  10. Size matters. The larger sizes (30-, 60- or 80-grams) are often the best buy. If you have a chronic skin issue like eczema, psoriasis, or seborrheic dermatitis, ask about having the larger size prescribed. For example, the 80-gram tube of triamcinolone is quite cheap and will save you more than the smaller tubes.

Lather up.

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