You need prescription to buy skin cream

Responding to multiple appeals from skin doctors, the Union Health Ministry has finally brought in a regulation to stop the sale of hundreds of skin creams containing steroids as over-the-counter products. File photo

Responding to multiple appeals from skin doctors, the Union Health Ministry has finally brought in a regulation to stop the sale of hundreds of skin creams containing steroids as over-the-counter products.

For decades, such ointments were sold as OTC items for all practical purposes taking advantage of a loophole in the law. This has led to a virtual epidemic of fungal infections of the skin (ringworms) across the country.

Last week, the ministry issued an official notification stating that from November 1, such creams cannot be bought without a doctor’s prescription. Also, the packs must carry the requisite warning to inform the customer that it is a prescription product.

According to the new order, issued following a public interest litigation in the Delhi High Court, a product containing corticosteroids even for topical or external use, would be guided by the same rules as meant for Schedule-H (prescription) drugs. There won’t be any exception.

The pack will have to carry the symbol Rx and “conspicuously displayed on the left top corner of the label”. Moreover, the packet must also carry a box saying the product is “not to be sold without the prescription of a registered medical practitioner”.

The government decision comes almost three years after Indian Association of Dermatologists, Venereologists and Leprologists red-flagged the health concerns to the government.

“What the government has done is a welcome step, but much more needs to be done. The ministry will have to stop medicines that irrationally combine strong steroids with anti-fungal medicines,” Shyam Verma, a Vadodara-based senior dermatologist told DH.

It is an indisputable fact that there is an increase in the prevalence of dermatophytosis (fungal infection) over the past four-five years across the country. Comparison of studies done on superficial fungal infections in cities such as Kolkata, Ahmedabad, and Chennai during different time frames have revealed an increasing trend, says an editorial in the Indian Journal of Dermatology. With little action from the government, the association last year filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court, which transferred it to the Delhi High Court for hearing. The court heard the PIL twice so far in January and April.

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