Contact Dermatitis

What is contact dermatitis?

Dermatitis describes a type of inflammation of the skin. Dermatitis and eczema mean the same thing. Contact dermatitis describes inflammation that is caused by direct skin contact with something in your environment. It is sometimes called contact eczema.

What causes contact dermatitis?

There are two main types of contact dermatitis:

  • Irritant contact dermatitis develops when the skin is in contact with irritating substances like detergents and solvents. These strip the skin surface of it’s natural oils. Dermatitis develops when there is regular or prolonged contact with these irritating substances. The most important factors in causing this type of contact dermatitis are the amount and the concentration of the irritating substance touching the skin. It is very common in people who have their hands in water a lot such as nurses, hairdressers, bartenders, cooks and cleaners. People in these occupations often develop hand dermatitis. Anyone can develop an irritant contact hand dermatitis from handling irritating substances or with frequent hand washing.
  • Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when allergy develops to a specific chemical or substance that has been in contact with the skin. Examples of these substances include metals such as nickel, rubber, chemicals in hair dye and perfumes or preservatives in creams and cosmetics. It is not known why some people develop allergy to these substances while others do not.

Less commonly substances in fruits and vegetables can cause an immediate allergic reaction when touched. This leads to itchy skin swellings known as contact urticaria (hives). This can lead to a flare of pre-existing dermatitis (eczema).

Contact dermatitis is not infectious and cannot be caught from or spread to other people.

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