What is Contact Dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin triggered by a substance the skin has come into contact with. The substance may be an allergen, something that provokes an allergic reaction, or an irritant, something that damages the skin.[1] Inflammation commonly results in red, itchy, and cracked skin.[2]

Contact dermatitis is a common condition that is more likely to affect people who work with their hands, such as healthcare workers, food-industry workers, cleaning staff, hairdressers, and some factory workers, especially when the work exposes the skin to possible irritants. It is generally a non-serious condition that will clear up with treatment.

People with symptoms that may be linked to contact dermatitis Can search for the Nearest doctor to carry out a symptom assessment.

Contact dermatitis vs. atopic dermatitis

Contact and atopic dermatitis are related conditions with similar symptoms and treatment options. However, while contact dermatitis has a direct cause, an allergen or an irritant, the causes of atopic dermatitis are less clearly identifiable. Why some people develop the condition, is not fully understood, but studies suggest that some people may be genetically predisposed to developing it.

Read more about Atopic Dermatitis »

Symptoms of contact dermatitis

The symptoms of contact dermatitis occur on the part of the skin that has come into contact with the cause of the irritation. These include:

  • The hands
  • The face
  • Areas of skin that have been in contact with certain metals, for example in jewellery
  • Areas of the skin that have been in contact with clothing

Typical symptoms of contact dermatitis include:

  • Swelling
  • Itchy skin
  • A red, blotchy rash
  • Dry and scaly skin
  • Fluid-filled blisters

People experiencing symptoms that may be linked to contact dermatitis Can search for a Nearest doctor to carry out a symptom assessment.

Causes of contact dermatitis

There are two types of contact dermatitis: irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. Of these, irritant contact dermatitis is the more common, accounting for roughly 80 percent of all cases.[1]

Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when the skin comes into contact with a substance that irritates the skin. Irritants come in many forms, and may include:[3]

  • Prolonged exposure to water can cause skin irritation, especially if the water contains chlorine or is hard or chalky
  • Detergents, such as washing-up liquid, laundry soap or bleach
  • Solvents, such as petrol or chemicals found in the workplace
  • Acids and alkalis
  • Dust, soil and powders
  • Certain plants, such as clematis, hellebore and poison ivy

The condition may develop following a single exposure to a very strong irritant or develop from frequent exposure to a weaker irritant.

Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the skin comes into contact with a specific substance that triggers an allergic reaction, known as an allergen. The allergen can be something the skin has newly been exposed to or something it has been exposed to many times before. Why some people develop allergic contact dermatitis and some do is not entirely clear.[1][3]

A wide array of substances can cause an allergic reaction, though some of the most common include:[3]

  • Nickel, a substance common in metal alloys used in everyday items, such as jewellery, clothes and bra straps
  • Cobalt, a metal sometimes found in jewellery
  • Chromate, a metal sometimes found in cement mixtures
  • Cosmetics, such as perfumes, hair dyes and nail varnish

Diagnosing contact dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis is diagnosed by trained medical professionals, according to the person’s history of exposure to irritants and through an examination of the area of skin that is affected.

In addition to an examination of the affected area, a patch test will be carried out to diagnose allergic contact dermatitis. This involves applying small patches containing common allergens to the skin, typically on the back, leaving them for a set amount of time, normally around two days, and then inspecting the skin beneath them for signs of dermatitis. The results will allow the dermatologist to identify which allergen is responsible for the reaction.[4]

Contact dermatitis treatment

Treating contact dermatitis will typically involve moisturizers, topical corticosteroids, and/or steroid tablets. A dermatologist will be able to advise on the best course of treatment for each person.[5]

Moisturizers are often useful in the treatment of dry and scaly skin. A variety of different emollients are available, and a dermatologist will be able to offer advice on which type is most suitable.[5]

Topical corticosteroids are steroid-containing creams and ointments that are applied directly to the affected skin. They can be effective in treating the redness and pain of dermatitis. Topical corticosteroids are available in a range of strengths. The strength of the preparation the affected person is prescribed depends on the severity and location of dermatitis.[5]

In severe cases, particularly when dermatitis covers a large area of skin, steroid tablets may be prescribed.[5] Always follow the instructions provided by the doctor when taking this kind of medication.

In mild cases, home remedies such as cool baths or cool, wet compresses may be effective in soothing the symptoms of contact dermatitis.

Contact dermatitis prevention

Avoiding contact with the irritant or allergen that is causing contact dermatitis is the most effective way of preventing the condition. If total avoidance is not possible, creating a barrier between the substance and the skin, for example by wearing gloves or closed shoes, is recommended. Carrying out a patch test before using new cosmetics or detergents, and using barrier creams may also help to prevent the onset of contact dermatitis.

Contact dermatitis complications

In most cases, contact dermatitis does not cause complications. If the condition is not treated effectively, however, complications are possible.

Secondary bacterial skin infection

Contact dermatitis can lead to a bacterial skin infection. This is made more likely if the skin is broken, for example by an injury, or if the affected person persistently scratches their skin.

An infection can cause the symptoms of dermatitis to worsen rapidly. If the following occurs, a doctor should be consulted:[6]

  • The skin becomes redder, hotter and more painful
  • The rash begin to ooze and/or crust over
  • You feel generally unwell and/or have a fever

A skin infection can typically be treated effectively using antibiotics.

Skin infection from Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacteria can also lead to a condition called impetigo. Impetigo will usually also require antibiotics to treat.

Read more about Impetigo »

Quality of life

If symptoms are particularly severe or long-lasting, this can affect a person’s quality of life. The condition may impact a person’s ability to do their job, for example, or cause them to become unhappy or depressed.

A person who feels that contact dermatitis is affecting their quality of life should discuss the issue with their doctor.

Contact dermatitis FAQs

u003cstrongu003eCan contact dermatitis affect the eyelids?u003c/strongu003e

Yes, contact dermatitis may affect the eyelids. The upper or lower section of either eyelid may develop symptoms, which can include itching, burning, redness, and scaliness. Contact dermatitis of the eyelids can be allergic in nature or caused by an irritant, such as soaps and detergents, dust particles, and chemicals.u003csupu003eu003ca href=u0022https://adoctor.org/wp-admin/post.php?post=4785u0026amp;action=edit#fn7u0022u003e[7]u003c/au003eu003c/supu003e

u003cstrongu003eCan contact dermatitis affect babies and children?u003c/strongu003e

Yes, contact dermatitis can affect people of any age. Irritants are the most common cause of the condition in babies and children. Potential irritants include:u003csupu003eu003ca href=u0022https://adoctor.org/wp-admin/post.php?post=4785u0026amp;action=edit#fn8u0022u003e[8]u003c/au003eu003c/supu003eu003cbru003eu003cbru003eSoapsu003cbru003eSaliva and urineu003cbru003eDetergentsu003cbru003eBaby lotionsu003cbru003ePerfumeu003cbru003eMetals, such as nickel, chrome, and mercuryu003cbru003eu003cbru003eIn infants, contact dermatitis caused by urine is often called u003ca href=u0022https://adoctor.org/conditions/diaper-rash/u0022u003ediaper rashu003c/au003e or u003ca href=u0022https://adoctor.org/conditions/nappy-rash/u0022u003enappy rashu003c/au003e.u003cbru003eu003cbru003eSymptoms are similar to those experienced in adults, and treatment will depend upon the child’s age and the severity of the condition. A doctor will be able to outline specific treatment methods but, in some cases, identifying and avoiding the cause of the reaction will be the first step in remedying the symptoms. If the cause is urine, barrier creams and regularly changed diapers are effective in managing the condition.u003cbru003eu003cbru003eParents or carers who suspect their child may be displaying symptoms related to contact dermatitis Can search for a u003ca href=u0022https://adoctor.org/u0022u003eNearest doctoru003c/au003e to carry out a symptom assessment.

u003cstrongu003eCan contact dermatitis affect the vulva?u003c/strongu003e

Yes, contact dermatitis can affect the vulva. The vulva is particularly vulnerable to the condition due to the sensitivity of the skin in that area. Common irritants and allergens include:u003csupu003eu003ca href=u0022https://adoctor.org/wp-admin/post.php?post=4785u0026amp;action=edit#fn9u0022u003e[9]u003c/au003eu003ca href=u0022https://adoctor.org/wp-admin/post.php?post=4785u0026amp;action=edit#fn10u0022u003e[10]u003c/au003eu003c/supu003eu003cbru003eu003cbru003eSoaps, detergents, shampoos, and conditionersu003cbru003eDeodorized tampons and padsu003cbru003eFeminine hygiene productsu003cbru003eNylon underwearu003cbru003eVaginal secretions, sweat, and urineu003cbru003eSpermicides and lubricantsu003cbru003eMedicines, such as benzocaine, neomycin, and chlorhexidineu003cbru003eLatexu003cbru003eu003cbru003eSymptoms typically include itching, burning, redness, and skin thickening. In severe cases, the affected person may also experience pain during intercourse or when a tampon or speculum is inserted.u003csupu003eu003ca href=u0022https://adoctor.org/wp-admin/post.php?post=4785u0026amp;action=edit#fn10u0022u003e[10]u003c/au003eu003c/supu003eu003cbru003eu003cbru003ePeople displaying symptoms of contact dermatitis of the vulva should see a doctor for evaluation. Treatment will typically involve avoidance of the irritant or allergen and the use of a topical corticosteroid ointment.u003csupu003eu003ca href=u0022https://adoctor.org/wp-admin/post.php?post=4785u0026amp;action=edit#fn10u0022u003e[10]u003c/au003eu003c/supu003e

u003cstrongu003eIs contact dermatitis contagious?u003c/strongu003e

No, contact dermatitis is not contagious. It is caused by contact with either an allergen or an irritant; it cannot be caught from another person.

u003cstrongu003eAre there any home remedies for contact dermatitis?u003c/strongu003e

People affected by contact dermatitis should consult a doctor for evaluation and treatment. Not doing so could risk the condition becoming more severe. However, in some mild cases, a doctor may recommend home remedies such as cool baths or cool, wet compresses, which may be effective in soothing the symptoms in the short term.u003csupu003eu003ca href=u0022https://adoctor.org/wp-admin/post.php?post=4785u0026amp;action=edit#fn5u0022u003e[5]u003c/au003eu003c/supu003e

Other names for contact dermatitis

  • Contact eczema

  1. UpToDate. “Patient education: Contact dermatitis (including latex dermatitis) (Beyond the Basics).” November 27, 2017. Accessed June 21, 2018.

  2. NHS Choices. “Contact dermatitis – symptoms.” October 10, 2016. Accessed June 21, 2018.

  3. Patient. “Contact Dermatitis.” August 29, 2017.

  4. British Association of Dermatologists. “Contact Dermatitis.” May, 2017. Accessed June 21, 2018.

  5. NHS Choices. “Contact dermatitis – treatment.” October 10, 2016. Accessed June 21, 2018.

  6. Health Service Execitive. “Contact dermatitis.” Accessed February 20, 2019.

  7. DermNet NZ. “Eyelid contact dermatitis.” May, 2014. Accessed February 21, 2018.

  8. Stanford Children’s Health. “Contact Dermatitis in Children.” Accessed February 21, 2018.

  9. Harvard Health Publishing. “Managing common vulvar skin conditions.” October 23, 2018. Accessed February 21, 2018.

  10. Drexel Medicine. “About Contact or Irritant Dermatitis of the Vulva.” Accessed February 21, 2018.

**Question: What is Contact‌ Dermatitis?**


Contact dermatitis, also known as contact eczema,⁤ is a‌ common skin condition that develops when ⁣the skin comes into direct ⁤contact ⁣with an irritant ‌or allergen. It‌ manifests as an itchy, ‍red, ⁢and inflamed area of ⁤the skin.

**Types of Contact Dermatitis:**

**1. Irritant Contact Dermatitis:**

* Caused by exposure to harsh chemicals, detergents, soaps, solvents,‍ or cleaning agents‍ that damage the ⁣skin barrier.

* Not an allergic reaction but⁢ rather a response to the irritation.

**2. Allergic Contact Dermatitis:**

* An immune ​system response to ‌an allergen⁣ that comes into contact with the skin.

* Can be caused by substances like ⁤nickel, latex, poison ivy, or fragrances.


Contact dermatitis ‌can be caused by⁣ a wide range ‌of substances, including:

* **Irritants:** Deodorants, perfumes, ⁢cleaning products, metals, detergents

* **Allergens:** ⁣Nickel, latex, rubber, cosmetics, plants (poison ivy)


* Redness, itching, and inflammation

* Blisters, ‌swelling, or skin thickening

* Dry, cracked skin

* Burning or tingling ⁤sensations


Contact dermatitis is typically diagnosed ‌through a physical ‍exam and a discussion of the patient’s ​symptoms and exposure history. A patch test⁤ may be performed to identify the specific allergen causing the reaction.


Treatment for contact dermatitis involves:

* **Identifying and avoiding ‍the irritant or allergen.**

* **Cool ‌compresses or baths:**⁣ To soothe itching and inflammation.

* **Moisturizing creams:** To hydrate⁣ the skin and protect it from further irritation.

* **Emollients:** To⁣ reduce ‍itching and dryness.

* **Topical corticosteroids:** To suppress inflammation.

* **Antihistamines:** To prevent itching.

* **Oral corticosteroids:** In​ severe cases, ​oral corticosteroids may‍ be‍ prescribed to reduce inflammation.


* Identify potential irritants⁣ and ​allergens and avoid contact.

* ‍Wear protective clothing ‌and gloves when handling potentially irritating substances.

* Use hypoallergenic products whenever possible.

* Moisturize skin‌ regularly to maintain a healthy skin barrier.

By following these measures, you can minimize your ⁣risk ‍of developing contact dermatitis. If you suspect you have contact dermatitis, consult with⁤ a healthcare ⁤professional⁢ for an accurate⁢ diagnosis and effective⁣ treatment.


  1. Contact dermatitis is a type of inflammation of the skin that occurs as a reaction to direct contact with a substance or irritant.

  2. Contact dermatitis, also known as contact allergy, is a common skin condition that occurs when the skin comes into contact with an irritant or allergen.

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