All About Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a type of rash that forms when the skin gets in contact with a particle or substance and becomes irritated. Contact dermatitis is not life-threatening or even very serious, but it is typically a source of severe discomfort. Here is a quick guide to understanding the causes, signs/symptoms, and treatment options of contact dermatitis.

There are two primary contact dermatitis types: irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis.

What Causes Irritant Contact Dermatitis?

The type of rash that appears in cases of irritant contact dermatitis is a result of the skin getting in contact with an irritant substance because of the given substance’s composition.

The response can occur in a matter of seconds of the skin getting in contact with the irritant substance. However, there are cases where it may take extended, repeated contact with a material for the skin to become intolerant to it. For instance, a particular kind of makeup or soap you have used for years may begin to cause contact dermatitis symptoms at some point.

Some of the most common irritant contact dermatitis causes are diapers, which is often referred to as a diaper rash, or exposure to harsh chemicals. However, even a non-chemical element like water can be an irritant due to excessive hand washing.

Some other common irritant contact dermatitis causes may be certain types of solvents, rubbing alcohol, harsh chemicals like bleach, self-care/hygiene products, and some airborne irritants such as sawdust.

What Causes Allergic Contact Dermatitis?

Allergic contact dermatitis triggers vary person to person. In essence, allergic contact dermatitis happens upon getting in contact with an allergen and results in what is akin to an allergic reaction. An allergic contact dermatitis reaction may be brought on by plants or exposure to certain types of chemicals that are mostly found in cosmetics and skin care products. Some of the most common allergic contact dermatitis triggers include:

– Items made of nickel

– Medicines such as antibiotic ointments and antihistamines

– Cosmetics that contain the ingredient known as Balsam of Peru

– Formaldehyde

– Cosmetics and self-care products like hair dyes, deodorants, and nail polish

– Plants like poison ivy

– Certain sunscreens

– Insecticides

Contact dermatitis symptoms can arise due to certain foods, medication, or a dental operation, which results in systemic contact dermatitis where the substance triggers an immune system reaction.  

Some occupations also increase one’s risk of developing contact dermatitis, some of which are healthcare workers, metalworkers, cosmetologists, mechanics, construction workers, kitchen employees, and gardeners.

Contact Dermatitis Symptoms

While not life-threatening at all, contact dermatitis can be a pain. Upon contact, a rash begins to form within minutes or hours at the contact site, which can remain noticeable for up to 30 days. Besides the red, nappy rash, you may experience severe itching. The place of contact may also swell, burn, and become painful. Severe reactions may cause pus-filled blisters, and chronic contact dermatitis can result in dry and flaky patches of skin.

Preventing and Treating Contact Dermatitis

The bad news is that there is not much that can be done about the symptoms of contact dermatitis. Consulting with a doctor is a sound idea regardless of the severity of your case. However, the initial step of treating and preventing symptoms is pinpointing triggers and avoiding contact with them. Moisturizing regularly is essential as well as using protective gear such as gloves while cleaning or at work. In severe cases of contact dermatitis, you may need prescription-strength medicines such as a steroid ointment or oral corticosteroids.