Contact dermatitis is a reaction that appears when the skin comes in contact with an irritant or an allergen. Symptoms include a rash, blisters, itching and burning. Learn more about contact dermatitis treatment below.
Causes of Contact Dermatitis
- Irritant dermatitis is the most common type. It’s caused by contact with acids, alkaline materials such as soaps and detergents, fabric softeners, solvents, or other chemicals. The reaction usually looks like a burn. Other irritants may include:
- Hair dyes
- Long-term exposure to wet diapers
- Pesticides or weed killers
- Rubber gloves
- Allergic contact dermatitis is caused by exposure to a substance or material to which you have become extra sensitive or allergic to. Common allergens include:
- Adhesives, including those used for false eyelashes or toupees
- Antibiotics such as neomycin rubbed on the surface of the skin
- Balsam of Peru (used in many personal products and cosmetics, as well as in many foods and drinks)
- Fabrics and clothing
- Fragrances in perfumes, cosmetics, soaps, and moisturizers
- Nail polish, hair dyes, and permanent wave solutions
- Nickel or other metals (found in jewelry, watch straps, metal zippers, bra hooks, buttons, pocketknives, lipstick holders, and powder compacts)
- Poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and other plants
- Rubber or latex gloves or shoes
- Although you may not have a reaction to a substance when you are first exposed to it, regular use can eventually cause sensitivity and a reaction to the product.
Symptoms of Contact Dermatitis
- Allergic dermatitis often causes a red, streaky, itchy and/or patchy rash where the substance touched the skin. The allergic reaction is often delayed, with the rash appearing 24 – 48 hours after exposure. The rash may:
- Have red bumps that may form moist, weeping blisters
- Feel warm and tender
- Ooze, drain, or crust
- Become scaly, raw, or thickened
- Irritant dermatitis often shows as dry, red, and rough skin. Cuts (fissures) may form on the hands. Skin may become inflamed with long-term exposure. Irritant contact dermatitis may also cause burning or pain.
- The same person may also have different symptoms over time.
- Allergic reactions may occur suddenly, or only after months of being exposed to a substance.
Testing for Contact Dermatitis
- The diagnosis is mostly based on the skin appearance and a history of exposure to an irritant or an allergen.
- Allergy testing with patch testing may determine which allergen is causing the reaction. Patch testing is used for patients who have long-term, repeated contact dermatitis. It requires three office visits and must be done by a health care provider with the experience and skill to interpret the results correctly.
- On the first visit, small patches of possible allergens are applied to the skin.
- These patches are removed 48 hours later to see if a reaction has occurred.
- A third visit at 72 hours is done to look for any delayed reaction.
- If you have already tested a material on a small area of your skin and noticed a reaction, you should bring the material with you.
- Other tests may be used to rule out other possible causes, including skin lesion biopsy or culture of the skin lesion.
Contact Dermatitis Treatment
- Contact dermatitis treatment includes washing with lots of water to remove any traces of the irritant that may remain on the skin.
- You should avoid further exposure to known irritants or allergens.
- Emollients or moisturizers help keep the skin moist, and also help skin repair itself. They protect the skin from becoming inflamed again.
- Corticosteroid skin creams or ointments may reduce inflammation.
- In severe cases, systemic corticosteroids may be needed.
- Along with, or instead of corticosteroids, your health care provider may prescribe drugs called tacrolimus ointment or pimecrolimus cream to use on the skin.
- Contact dermatitis usually clears up without complications in 2 or 3 weeks. However, it may return if the substance or material that caused it cannot be found or avoided.