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Have you ever used a new type of skincare product or detergent, only to have your skin become red and irritated? If so, you may have experienced contact dermatitis. This condition occurs when chemicals you come into contact with cause a reaction.
Contact dermatitis symptoms depend on the cause and how sensitive you are to the substance.
Symptoms associated with allergic contact dermatitis include:
Irritant contact dermatitis may cause slightly different symptoms, such as:
There are three types of contact dermatitis:
Photocontact dermatitis is less common. It’s a reaction that can occur when the active ingredients in a skin product are exposed to the sun and results in irritation.
Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the skin develops an allergic reaction after being exposed to a foreign substance. This causes the body to release inflammatory chemicals that can make the skin feel itchy and irritated.
Common causes of allergic contact dermatitis include contact with:
Irritant contact dermatitis is the most common type of contact dermatitis. It happens when the skin comes in contact with a toxic material.
Toxic substances that can cause irritant contact dermatitis include:
Irritant contact dermatitis can also occur when the skin comes in contact with less irritating materials — like soap or even water — too often. People whose hands are frequently exposed to water, such as hairdressers, bartenders, and healthcare workers, often experience irritant contact dermatitis of the hands, for example.
Most cases of contact dermatitis go away on their own once the substance is no longer in contact with the skin. Here are some tips you can try at home:
You can purchase these items at most drugstores.
Most times, contact dermatitis isn’t cause for concern. However, you should seek medical attention if your rash is close to your eyes or mouth, covers a large area of your body, or doesn’t improve with home treatment. Your doctor can prescribe a more potent steroid cream if home treatments don’t soothe your skin.
Contact your doctor if your symptoms are severe or don’t improve with time. Your doctor will take a thorough medical history and examine your skin. Questions they may ask you include:
Your doctor may refer you to an allergy specialist or dermatologist to pinpoint the cause of your contact dermatitis. This specialist can perform allergy testing called a patch test. It involves exposing a small patch of your skin to an allergen. If your skin reacts, the allergy specialist can determine the likely cause of your contact dermatitis.
Avoiding initial exposure to irritants can help prevent contact dermatitis. Try these tips:
If you know you have sensitive skin, do a spot test with any new products. You can apply the new product to one place on your forearm. Cover the area, and don’t expose it to water or soap. Check for any reaction at 48 and 96 hours after application. If there is any redness or irritation, don’t use the product.
Written by: Rachel Nall, RN, BSN
Medically reviewed on: May 19, 2017: Sarah Taylor, MD
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