Contact dermatitis is a common skin condition that impacts millions of people. At U.S. Dermatology Partners, we can help patients who struggle with contact dermatitis and other skin conditions to address their symptoms and look and feel their best. You can learn more about contact dermatitis on this page or by scheduling a consultation with a U.S. Dermatology Partners office location in your area.
Contact dermatitis is a type of skin reaction that occurs when the skin comes into contact with an allergen or when the skin has been physically irritated by repeated contact with a substance that is toxic or abrasive. From perfumes and dyes to plants and chemicals in cleaning products, contact dermatitis can be caused by a wide variety of external irritants and allergens. The good news is that contact dermatitis, while it can look and feel bad, is not life-threatening or contagious. Contact dermatitis is typically treated by identifying the allergen or irritant so that it can be avoided and using medications to reduce the inflammation.
There are actually two different types of contact dermatitis – irritant and allergic dermatitis.
The most common type of contact dermatitis is caused by irritants. Unlike allergic dermatitis, which is caused by a skin allergy that only impacts specific people, irritant dermatitis can affect anyone. It occurs when a non-allergen substance damages the outer layers of skin, leading to irritation, inflammation, and itching.
A strong irritant can damage the skin after one exposure, but contact dermatitis often occurs due to prolonged or repeated exposure.
Almost any abrasive, acidic, or rough substance can cause irritant dermatitis, but the following substances frequently lead to irritation:
This form of dermatitis occurs when the skin is exposed to a substance that the patient is allergic to. These allergens cause the immune system to kick into high gear, causing inflammation, irritation, itching, and other symptoms similar to irritant contact dermatitis. While contact dermatitis is typically caused by contact with the skin, allergic contact dermatitis may also develop due to an allergen that is consumed or placed inside the body as part of medical or dental treatments. This is often referred to as systemic contact dermatitis. Like irritant dermatitis, strong allergens can cause a response after minimal exposure, but other substances only cause a response after prolonged or repeated exposure.
People can develop allergies to just about any substance, but some of the most common skin allergens include:
Almost anyone can develop irritant or allergic contact dermatitis, but there are some professions and pastimes that put people at greater risk, including:
Contact dermatitis usually causes an itchy rash on the skin. Some of the most common symptoms include:
Some of the more severe symptoms of contact dermatitis include:
If you experience symptoms of contact dermatitis, you should contact a board-certified dermatologist. They are specially trained to identify the cause and alleviate the symptoms.
The first step to treat contact dermatitis is simple – identify and avoid the allergen or irritant causing the reaction. At home, you can address allergy symptoms by applying a cold compress and anti-itch cream to the affected area, and you can take over-the-counter antihistamines to counter the allergic response. It’s important not to scratch the irritated skin since this increases the risk for infection. You can also soak in a cool bath with baking soda or colloidal oatmeal to relieve itch. If you avoid the cause of your contact dermatitis and treat the symptoms, the condition should improve in a few weeks.
If your condition doesn’t improve or you can’t determine the source of your reaction, you should visit a dermatologist. Your dermatologist may recommend an allergy patch test to help determine potential allergens. They will also ask you to keep track of any potential allergens or irritants.
As you work to identify the cause of your contact dermatitis, your doctor may recommend the following steps to treat contact dermatitis:
Prevention is an essential aspect of treatment for contact dermatitis. Pinpointing and avoiding the source of your contact dermatitis should be the first step in your treatment plan.
Additionally, you can take the following steps to prevent contact dermatitis:
*Results may vary by individual