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Understanding Contact Dermatitis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Dermo Direct Teledermatology > Blog > Understanding Contact Dermatitis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Contact dermatitis is a common skin condition characterised by redness, itching, and inflammation. It occurs when the skin comes into direct contact with a substance that causes an allergic reaction or irritates the skin. This article delves into the types, symptoms, causes, and effective treatments for contact dermatitis.

Types of contact dermatitis

Allergic Contact Dermatitis

  • Triggered by an allergen.
  • Common allergens include nickel, fragrances, latex, and certain plants like poison ivy.

Irritant Contact Dermatitis

  • Caused by exposure to irritating substances.
  • Frequent culprits are harsh soaps, detergents, and solvents.

Symptoms of contact dermatitis

The symptoms can vary but commonly include:

  • Redness and rash.
  • Itching and swelling.
  • Blisters or bumps.
  • Dry, cracked, or scaly skin.
  • Burning or stinging sensation.

Common causes and risk factors

Understanding the triggers is crucial for managing contact dermatitis effectively.

  • Allergic reactions: Metals (nickel), cosmetics, hair dyes, and plants (poison ivy, oak).
  • Irritants: Soaps, detergents, bleach, and other cleaning products.
  • Occupational hazards: Jobs involving frequent hand washing or exposure to chemicals, such as healthcare, cleaning, and hairdressing.

Diagnosis and treatment


A dermatologist can diagnose contact dermatitis through:

  • Patch testing: Identifies specific allergens by applying small amounts to the skin.
  • Medical history and physical examination: Evaluates the appearance and distribution of the rash.


  • Avoiding triggers: The most effective way to prevent contact dermatitis.
  • Topical steroids: Reduce inflammation and itching.
  • Moisturisers: Keep the skin hydrated and repair the skin barrier.
  • Antihistamines: Relieve itching, especially in allergic contact dermatitis.
  • Cold compresses: Soothe the skin and reduce inflammation.

Prevention tips

Preventing contact dermatitis involves taking proactive measures to protect your skin from potential irritants and allergens. Here are some effective tips to help you avoid flare-ups and maintain healthy skin:

Identify and avoid irritants and allergens

  • Determine what causes your rash and steer clear of these substances.
  • Opt for hypoallergenic jewellery, like surgical steel or gold, especially for body and ear piercings to prevent reactions.

Thoroughly clean your skin

  • If you’ve come into contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, wash your skin immediately to remove the rash-causing oils.
  • Use mild, fragrance-free soap and warm water, ensuring you rinse thoroughly.
  • Clean any clothing or items that might have touched these plants to avoid re-exposure.

Wear protective gear

  • Use face masks, goggles, and gloves to protect yourself from irritants, particularly when using household cleaners.
  • Apply iron-on patches to cover metal fasteners on clothing, such as jean snaps, to avoid skin reactions.

Use barrier creams or gels

  • Apply protective products to your skin to form a barrier against irritants.
  • For instance, a skin cream containing bentoquatam can help prevent reactions from poison ivy.

Regularly moisturise

  • Keeping your skin hydrated with moisturising lotions helps maintain the skin’s protective barrier and keeps it soft.

Be cautious with pets

  • Plants like poison ivy can leave allergens on your pets’ fur, which can then transfer to your skin.
  • Bathe your pets if you suspect they’ve been exposed to these plants.

Track and avoid triggers

  • Maintain a diary to identify and keep track of potential irritants and allergens that affect your skin.

Test new products

  • Before using new skincare or cosmetic products, test them on a small area of your skin to ensure they don’t cause a reaction.

By incorporating these preventive strategies into your daily routine, you can greatly reduce the likelihood of contact dermatitis and maintain healthy, irritation-free skin.

When to see a doctor

Consult a dermatologist if:

  • The rash is severe or painful.
  • You suspect an infection (e.g., pus, increased redness, warmth).


Contact dermatitis, though uncomfortable, is manageable with the right approach. By understanding the triggers, symptoms, and treatment options, individuals can effectively control and prevent flare-ups. If you experience persistent or severe symptoms, seeking professional medical advice is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment.

By following preventive measures and staying informed, you can significantly reduce the risk of contact dermatitis and maintain healthy skin.

For those times when you need expert advice without the wait, consider Dermo Direct. This teledermatology service connects you with experienced dermatologists through virtual consultations. It’s a convenient way to get the care you need, right when you need it, from the comfort of your home. Whether it’s a quick question or a detailed consultation, Dermo Direct is there to help you keep your skin healthy and happy.