Original Research

Variations in Preference for Topical Vehicles Among Demographic Groups

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Existing studies have examined preferences for topical preparations based on specific disease states; this literature, albeit limited, demonstrates that preferences for topical product formulations vary among acne, atopic dermatitis, and plaque psoriasis patients.5 Other studies focus on specific patient populations or medications. For example, one study found that preference for corticosteroid vehicles among psoriasis patients was highly variable and choice of vehicle was critical to adherence.6 Another study highlighted differences in vehicle choice between younger and older age groups with psoriasis.7

Given the limited data overall, it was our goal to determine if any patterns of preference existed by age, gender, or ethnicity, regardless of disease state or indication for topical product. Importantly, over-the-counter products—cosmetic or otherwise—were not differentiated from prescribed topical medications. Our survey elucidated significant differences in preference by age, gender, and ethnicity.

Notable Findings
Regarding age, patients younger than 40 years preferred lotion, patients aged 40 to 60 years preferred cream, and patients older than 60 years preferred cream. Analysis based on gender showed that females preferred cream, and males preferred lotion and ointment. Analysis based on ethnicity most notably demonstrated a strong preference for ointment in black patients while showing preference for cream in white patients.

Potential Biases and Pitfalls
Limitations of this study included the small Hispanic/Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander populations surveyed, possible misunderstanding of the survey by respondents, and the potential for surveys being filled out twice by the same patient. Future surveys could be conducted over a longer period to increase the total sample size and to better characterize less-represented populations, such as Hispanic and Asian patients. To avoid repeat participation, the first question of the survey asked patients to indicate if they had previously completed the survey and instructed patients who had to return the repeat survey to the front desk.

To limit other errors, our survey included concise accessible descriptions of each preparation along with clear representative photographs and examples of common brands. Still, it is possible that some mistakes could have been made while patients filled out the survey based on comprehension deficits, oversight, or other reasons. It also is possible that preference might vary individually depending on the indication of the topical product—cosmetic or therapeutic—or even by anatomic site of application. Neither of these considerations was assessed specifically in our survey.


Our hope is that this study helps practitioners better anticipate topical preferences among patients with the ultimate goal of increasing medication adherence and patient outcomes. Nevertheless, although these general trends can provide helpful guidance, we acknowledge that individual preferences vary, and care should always be patient centered.

We thank An-Lin Cheng, PhD (Kansas City, Missouri), for assistance with the statistical analysis.


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