What is contact dermatitis? Types, Causes and Preventing

Contact dermatitis is an irritated, red rash that is brought about by direct contact with or a hypersensitive response to a substance. The rash is not contagious or life-threatening, but it can be very uncomfortable. Many substances can cause such reactions, including soaps, cosmetics, per


To treat contact dermatitis effectively, you have to distinguish and stay away from the reason for your response. If you can avoid the offending substance, the rash usually goes away within two to four weeks. You can try soothing your skin with cold and wet compresses, anti-itch creams, and other self-care steps.

What are the types of contact dermatitis?

The two main types of contact dermatitis are:

Allergic contact dermatitis: Your body is experiencing an allergic reaction to a substance (allergen) it does not like. Common allergens include jewelry metals (such as nickel), cosmetics, perfumes, and preservatives. It may take up to several days after experiencing the red, itchy rash.

Irritant contact dermatitis: This painful rash tends to appear quickly in response to an irritating substance. Common irritants include detergents, soaps, detergents, and acid.

What are the symptoms of contact dermatitis?

The symptoms of contact dermatitis depend on the cause and how sensitive you are to the substance.

Allergic contact dermatitis

Symptoms associated with allergic contact dermatitis include:

  • dry, scaly, flaky skin
  • swelling, especially in the eyes, face, or groin areas
  • skin redness
  • skin that appears darkened or leathery
  • skin that burns
  • extreme itching
  • hives
  • oozing blisters
  • sun sensitivity

Irritant contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis may cause somewhat various side effects, for example,

  • blistering
  • cracking skin due to extreme dryness
  • ulcerations
  • open sores that form crusts
  • swelling
  • skin that feels stiff or tight

 What causes contact dermatitis?

If it's caused by an allergy, then your immune system is involved. After you touch something, you mistakenly think your body is under attack. It kicks into action, which makes antibodies to fight the invader. A chain of events triggers the release of chemicals, including histamine. This is what causes allergies - in this case, a rash and itching. It's called allergic contact dermatitis.

Usually, you won't get a rash the first time your skin touches something you are allergic to. But that touch sensitizes your skin, and the next time you could have a reaction. If you develop an allergic rash, you may have touched the trigger before and did not know it.

Causes of allergic contact dermatitis include:

  • Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac
  • Hair dyes or straighteners
  • Nickel, a metal found in jewelry and belt buckles
  • Leather (specifically, chemicals used in tanning leather)
  • Latex rubber
  • Citrus fruit, especially the peel
  • Fragrances in soaps, shampoos, lotions, perfumes, and cosmetics
  • Some medications that you put on your skin

Some rashes look like an allergic reaction but are actually not because your immune system is not affected. Instead, you touch something that removes the surface oils that protect your skin. The longer this item remains on your skin, the worse the reaction. It's called irritant contact dermatitis.

It includes things that can cause irritant contact dermatitis:

  • Acids
  • Resins, plastics, and epoxies
  • Certain plants, such as poinsettias and peppers
  • Hair dyes
  • Nail polish remover 
  • Some drain cleaners
  • Urine, saliva, or other body fluids
  • Paints and varnishes
  • Harsh soaps or detergents

If you suffer from eczema, you are more likely to develop this type of rash. Another less common form of contact dermatitis is photodermatitis. This rash can form when you use certain products, such as sunscreen, on your skin and then spend time in the sun. The combination of the sun and the allergen or irritant on your skin causes a reaction.

How to treat contact dermatitis?

In most cases, the rash and other reactions disappear after exposure to the substance ends. The rash may take some time to heal and disappear completely. For example, the rash from poison ivy often persists because oils from the plant have seeped into the skin. Once the oil is gone, the rash will disappear.

It is best for a person to avoid contact with substances that have been identified as causing contact dermatitis. If contact occurs, it is a good idea to clean the area with some mild soap and water to prevent a rash. Most treatment options include home remedies. They include:

  • Applying anti-itch ointments to the affected skin
  • Taking an oatmeal (or similar) bath
  • Take antihistamines
  • Avoid scratching the affected area to help prevent infection

In extreme cases, a person may need to see a dermatologist, allergist, or other health care professional. They can prescribe ointments, creams, or prescription medications for contact dermatitis.

How do dermatologists diagnose contact dermatitis?

To diagnose this common skin condition, dermatologists: 

  • Examine your skin, pay close attention to the rash.
  • Ask about current and past health problems.
  • Ask questions to help them determine the cause of the rash.

Finding the cause can take a little police work. The dermatologist may ask you questions about your work, free time, pets, and skin care products. Make certain to enlighten your dermatologist regarding all the makeup you use. If you or someone close to you is using skin lightening, be sure to mention this as well.

If your dermatologist suspects you of an allergy, they may recommend a patch test. This provides patients with a safe and effective way to know if your skin has developed an allergic reaction to anything.

Preventing contact dermatitis

The most ideal approach to forestall contact dermatitis is to stay away from contact with the allergens or aggravations that cause your manifestations. If you cannot avoid contact, you can take steps to reduce the risk of the allergen or irritants causing symptoms, including:

  • Clean your skin: If you come into contact with an allergen or irritant, rinse the affected skin with warm water and emollients as soon as possible.
  • Use gloves to protect your hands but take them off every now and then, as sweating can make any symptoms worse; You may find it helpful to wear cotton gloves underneath rubber gloves if the rubber is bothering you as well
  • Change products that irritate your skin: Check the ingredients on make-up or soaps to ensure they do not contain any irritants or allergens; In some cases, you may need to contact the manufacturer or check online for this information
  • Applying emollients frequently and in large quantities keeps your skin hydrated and helps protect it from allergens and irritants; You can also use emollient soap substitutes instead of regular or liquid soap, which can dry out your skin

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