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What is Contact dermatitis?

The condition of inflammation in the skin when being exposed to certain substances that irritate it or causes an allergic reaction is known as contact dermatitis. This is a type of skin disease that affects almost 15% to 20% of people. There are many natural and artificial chemicals that can contribute to contact dermatitis. 

Types of Contact dermatitis

Based on the element that has come in contact with the skin, contact dermatitis can be divided into three types-

Causes of contact dermatitis

  • Irritant contact dermatitis
  • Allergic contact dermatitis
  • Photo contact dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis(ICD)

This is considered the most common type of contact dermatitis that people suffer from. This can occur in people who have been exposed to the irritant repeatedly. ICD occurs when the skin touches something toxic. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it always has to be a toxic substance that can trigger a reaction. Some common substances that can cause irritant contact dermatitis are discussed below-

  • Pepper spray
  • Bleach
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Battery acids
  • Acids
  • Bases 
  • Cleaners
  • Kerosene
  • Urine
  • Stool 

Non-toxic substances that can cause ICD are-

  • Soaps
  • Detergents
  • Saliva 


Interesting- Sometimes water can also act as an irritant. Professionals who are exposed to water most of the day often complain about suffering from an ICD.

In addition to having a rash with redness and itchiness, some of the other symptoms of irritant contact dermatitis are-

  • Burning or stinging sensation 
  • Swelling
  • Dryness of the skin that can lead to cracking
  • Blisters
  • Stiffness or tightness of the skin
  • Formation of ulcers
  • In some cases, open sores can develop 

Allergic Contact Dermatitis (ACD)

On the other hand, people who have been exposed to a foreign substance that leads to the release of various chemicals in the body is said to suffer from allergic contact dermatitis. In simple terms, allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the immune system reacts to a substance that has entered the body giving rise to itchiness and skin irritation. ACD is more common in previously sensitized individuals or genetically predisposed persons. Some of the common elements that can trigger ACD are-

  • Rubber
  • Medications applied to the skin
  • Poison Ivy
  • Oak which is poisonous 
  • Poison sumac
  • Scented soaps
  • Body lotions and creams
  • Tanning agents in leather products
  • Deodorants or mists
  • Latex
  • Shaving creams or foams
  • Jewelry made of gold or nickel
  • Cosmetics
  • Hair dyes
  • Citrus fruits

It is important to note here is that the allergic reaction is not immediate nor does it occur on the first contact with the substance. As it takes for the person to sensitize himself or herself to the irritant. A rash develops only after coming in contact with the allergen the second or third time.

Some of the symptoms that people with Allergic contact dermatitis experience are-

Rashes in the hand

  • Redness of the skin
  • Darkening of the skin
  • Leathery texture
  • Burning sensation in the affected area
  • Dryness, flakiness of the skin
  • Incessant itchiness
  • Swelling in the affected area, especially the eyes, face or private areas
  • Blisters with pus oozing out 

Photo contact dermatitis (PCD)

This type of contact dermatitis occurs in rare instances. Photo means sunlight and dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin. Individuals suffering from this type of dermatitis report they experience itchiness or redness after they have applied an element on the skin and exposed themselves to the sun. Elements that can trigger a photo contact reaction are-

  • Skin ointment
  • Certain oils
  • Medications
  • Shaving cream or foam

Some of the symptoms of this type of contact dermatitis are mentioned below-

  • Patches of blisters around the legs, hands, arms.
  • Itchiness around the patches 
  • Redness and inflammation of the skin 

Treatment of Contact Dermatitis

Now that you have come across the causes and symptoms of contact dermatitis, it is time to look at the treatment options. Some of them are mentioned below-

Avoiding the substance

This is the first step towards treating contact dermatitis. It is imperative that you identify and avoid the allergen or irritant that is causing the reaction. No contact with the substance means no skin problems. 

Using an emollient

An emollient works by moisturizing the skin that prevents the skin from getting dry or flaky. Doctors often prescribe a mixture of different emollients to get relief from the itching and redness. Some tips to remember while using an emollient are-

-Use a large amount

-Do not rub it into the skin

-Apply it 2 to 4 times a day

-Apply as soon as possible after taking a bath or shower 

Taking topical corticosteroids or steroid tablets

To get relief from the inflammation and skin irritation, doctors prescribe creams that contain corticosteroids. Depending on the severity of the problem and where the skin is affected, doctors prescribe either a stronger cream for short-term, a weaker cream, a weaker cream to use on the face or a stronger cream to apply on the palms and soles of feet. 

Prevention for Contact Dermatitis

Fortunately, there are certain measures that might work for the prevention of contact dermatitis. These include-

  • Keep a humidifier at home to keep the air humid and moist.
  • Wear loose-fitting, natural-fiber clothing.
  • Do not wear nickel-plated jewelry.
  • Use mild soaps.
  • Take warm instead of hot baths.
  • Moisturize the skin after taking a bath.
  • Refrain from using latex products.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, especially while trekking or hiking.
  • Keep a record of things that are coming in contact with to determine what is causing the reaction.

Also Read: Things You Couldn’t Imagine The Vagina Can Be Allergic To

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