Contact Dermatitis

What is Contact Dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis occurs when something irritating comes into contact with the skin and creates a rash. Individuals can get contact dermatitis because of an allergic reaction or by touching an irritant. Individuals who are allergic to latex, gold jewelry, certain perfumes or poison ivy will get allergic contact dermatitis if these allergens touch their skin.

Toxic substances that commonly cause irritant contact dermatitis include bleach, detergents, pepper spray and battery acid. Reactions to toxic substances will worsen if the irritant stays on the skin for an extended amount of time.

What are the Symptoms of Contact Dermatitis?

People who have allergic dermatitis may notice various changes in their skin when they touch an allergen. These symptoms include redness, inflammation, dry patches and blisters. Individuals may also itch excessively or feel a burning sensation on their skin.

Allergic reactions can also cause the face and the area around the eyes to swell. Irritant contact dermatitis causes distinct symptoms, such as tightness in the skin, blistered and cracked skin, and sores that eventually become crusty around the edges. Skin ulcers may occur where the irritant touched the skin and these lesions can become painful.

Contact Dermatitis Causes

In cases of contact dermatitis, outbreaks are caused by external elements, such as exposing the skin to irritants or items that can trigger an allergic reaction. There are thousands of possible causes, depending on just how sensitive the subject’s skin is to external factors. In some cases, an item might instigate both irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis.

In irritant contact dermatitis, certain items might cause an outbreak in an individual’s skin, even though that person may not be allergic to that specific element. For instance, solvents and cleaning chemicals might produce the symptoms of contact dermatitis, even though the subject isn’t allergic to any of the ingredients in those products.

Conversely, allergic contact dermatitis results when one’s skin comes in contact with substances that trigger responses from the body’s immune system. It’s also common for the allergen to only affect the area of the skin with which the substance came in direct contact.

How is Contact Dermatitis Treated?

Contact dermatitis should go away on its own in about four weeks after coming into contact with the irritant.

Treatment includes

At home treatment is usually all that is necessary when individuals have contact dermatitis. After exposure to the irritant, individuals should thoroughly clean the area with warm water and soap. Scratching the affected area is not recommended because this can aggravate the inflamed skin and it may lead to an infection. Using anti-itch creams and taking antihistamine medications purchased from the drugstore can help ease the itching. If necessary, a doctor can prescribe a stronger cream that will help to lessen the itching caused by contact dermatitis.

Contact Dermatitis Prevention

While sensitive skin may be a hereditary trait and can’t be prevented, reactions can be prevented through careful planning and observing which substances or circumstances initiate a reaction. Once a person has identified a specific substance, a doctor can be helpful in supplying a list of alternatives that don’t contain that element or substance. Additionally, one’s doctor can also provide an expansive list of products that do contain the item, so the patient can avoid using those products.

Wash your skin regularly to cleanse the body of possible irritants. Especially helpful are soaps without fragrances and moisturizing bars. Lotions and creams can also help protect the skin in the event of exposure. Similarly, protective clothing, such as gloves and masks, is recommended while using cleaning chemicals and other chemical solutions.

Many items of clothing use metal materials, such as the copper fasteners used in denim jeans. An iron-on patch can cover these fasteners to keep them from coming into contact with the skin.

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Last Reviewed:
September 19, 2016
Last Updated:
December 08, 2017