What Is Contact Dermatitis?

April 18, 2022
Mary Honkus
By: Mary Honkus | skincare.com by L'Oréal
What Is Contact Dermatitis?

Have you ever broken out in a rash after trying a new laundry detergent? How about experiencing irritation after wearing new jewelry? If you answered yes to one (or both!) of these questions, you may have experienced contact dermatitis. This extremely common form of eczema affects over five million people a year and is caused by certain irritants that come in contact with the skin. Luckily, this skin disease is easily treatable.

If you think you may be experiencing contact dermatitis, keep reading to learn more about dermatitis symptoms, what irritants can cause a flare-up and how to get rid of contact dermatitis.

What Is the Main Cause of Contact Dermatitis?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), contact dermatitis is a type of eczema that occurs when something that’s touching your skin results in irritation or an allergic reaction. These reactions often appear as dry, red, itchy skin on the affected area. More severe cases can appear as a blistering rash. 

You can develop contact dermatitis anywhere on your body, but it’s most likely to occur on the hands, face and groin areas, says Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, a Toronto-based, board-certified dermatologist and Skincare.com expert. “Hands take the brunt of irritation with washing, cleaning and glove-wearing, though,” she says.

While anyone can experience contact dermatitis, both Dr. Skotnicki and the AAD explain some people are at higher risk due to their line of work. For example, those who come in contact with irritating chemicals and regularly wash their hands — like healthcare, janitorial or food industry workers — may be  more likely to experience dermatitis symptoms.

Allergens can also cause a contact dermatitis flare-up. “Common culprits include fragrance, essential oils or plant extracts, and the metal nickel,” says Dr. Skotnicki

What Are the Two Types of Contact Dermatitis?

There are two types of contact dermatitis: irritant and allergic. The former occurs when something injures then irritates your skin, the AAD explains. Common irritants include detergents, hand sanitizers, soaps and fertilizers.

As for allergic contact dermatitis, this form is caused by an allergic reaction irritating your skin. The AAD explains that there are more than 15,000 allergens, so it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint what exactly could be causing your reaction, but common causes include nickel, latex and perfumes. 

Both forms of contact dermatitis vary in length, too. “Untreated allergic contact dermatitis can last three weeks whereas irritant contact dermatitis heals faster — typically in days,” says Dr. Skotnicki

What Clears Up Contact Dermatitis?

The first step in clearing either form of contact dermatitis is to recognize what is causing the reaction. Once you are able to determine what is creating this unpleasant reaction, avoid coming in close contact with it. 

If the dermatitis isn’t going away, visit your dermatologist — upon evaluation they may be able to determine the allergen or irritant causing the flare-up and prescribe you a steroid cream that can help the inflammation go down. 

Does Contact Dermatitis Go Away?

Most cases of contact dermatitis will dissipate on their own once the irritant is removed. As mentioned above, visiting your dermatologist can help speed up the healing process with the prescription of a steroid cream.

The most important thing when it comes to both forms of contact dermatitis is identifying the irritant or allergen so your skin can make a swift recovery.

Photo: Chaunte Vaughn

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