Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a type of eczema where the skin has come into contact with either an allergen or irritant. An allergen is a substance that affects the immune system, causing an allergic reaction, and an irritant is a substance that irritates the skin. Contact dermatitis occurs more often in women and is not contagious.

There are two types:

  1. With allergic contact dermatitis, the skin has a delayed reaction after exposure to an allergen.
  2. With irritant contact dermatitis, the skin is exposed to an irritant which causes immediate skin damage.

Sources of Allergic Contact Dermatitis

When someone is allergic to an allergen, he or she develops a rash on the skin after one or many exposures. Common sources of allergic contact dermatitis are:

  • Cosmetics – Such as face makeup and mascara.
  • Fragrances – Found in perfumes, lotions, shampoos, and soaps.
  • Metals – Nickel on snaps of jeans, belt buckles, and jewelry.
  • Topical medications – Such as Neosporin and Benadryl.
  • Rubber products – Such as latex gloves or work clothing.
  • Poison ivy, oak, and sumac – Contain urushiol oil, a potent allergen.
  • Cashew nuts – Contain a chemical similar to urushiol.
  • Detergents, soaps, and skin cleansers
  • Dyes in clothing or shoes
  • Household cleaning products

Sources of Irritant Contact Dermatitis

There are many substances that can irritate the skin. Common irritants include:

  • Detergents
  • Soaps
  • Cleansers
  • Waxes
  • Chemicals

Occupational Risk

Some occupations have more exposure to substances that can result in sensitization or allergy. These include healthcare workers, dental workers, hairdressers, florists, photographers, and machinists.

Occupational contact dermatitis can occur when someone is exposed to irritants or allergens on the job. These include water, chemicals, oils, dyes, cleaning products, wet cement, industrial solvents, cement dust, paper dust, sawdust, and fuel products.


The signs and symptoms of contact eczema result in inflammation (redness) of the skin, itching, burning, a stinging sensation, and scaly patches on the skin. Contact dermatitis can occur on any part of the body, but more often occurs on the hands.

Allergic Contact Dermatitis Symptoms

  • Blisters that ooze clear fluid
  • Red skin in patches
  • Burning, itching, or stinging sensations
  • Hives
  • Sun sensitivity
  • Dark, leathery, or cracked skin
  • Intermittent scaly, dry skin patches

Irritant Contact Dermatitis Symptoms

  • Stiff, tight skin
  • Dry, cracking, and swollen skin
  • Blistering
  • Painful ulcers


The treatment of this type of eczema is based on soothing the current symptoms and preventing reoccurrence of the condition. The key to prevention involves avoidance of the irritant or allergen. Anti-itch creams and ointments can offer some relief to symptoms. Also, corticosteroids reduce inflammation.

Speak with your doctor. For severe cases, the doctor may prescribe oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone pills, or give you an injectable form of steroids, such as dexamethasone.

Home Care

  • Apply an anti-itch cream to the affected area.
  • Apply cool, wet compresses as needed to soothe skin.
  • Take an over-the-counter antihistamine, such as Benadryl or Zyrtec.
  • Take a lukewarm bath with colloidal oatmeal or baking soda.
  • Wear smooth-textured clothing, such as 100 percent cotton.
  • Avoid harsh soaps and detergents.

Practical Prevention Tips

  • Avoid contact with known allergens and skin irritants.
  • If nickel is the cause, place coins in a wallet. Realize that even gold plated jewelry contains nickel.
  • Wear cotton gloves underneath rubber or latex gloves
  • Use hypoallergenic soaps and skincare products.
  • Wash any area that comes in contact with an irritant or allergen.

Home - Types of Eczema - Contact Dermatitis

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