Contact Dermatitis

What is contact dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis refers to an inflammatory skin disease characterized by a localized, itchy rash or blisters. This condition may occur when contact with a foreign substance (allergen) causes an immunological reaction.


Contact dermatitis is a common condition. It tends to be more common in people who work with their hands, such as nurses and health care workers, hairdressers and some factory workers, especially when the work exposes the skin to irritating materials. Contact dermatitis occurs when a particular material, for example, a metal, material or liquid, causes irritation and inflammation in the skin. A material can be perfectly safe, but still cause dermatitis. Some, but not all, cases of dermatitis are caused by an allergy to a material.


Contact dermatitis usually occurs on the part of the skin that has had contact with cause of the irritation. This is often the hands and face, or areas of skin that have contact with clothing or jewelry. Typical symptoms include swelling, itching and pain. Often a red, blotchy rash develops. The skin may become dry and scaly, or develop fluid-filled blisters.


The diagnosis is made based on a patient's history and examination of the skin. A skin patch test performed, to test for allergies to certain substances, might be helpful to identify triggers of contact dermatitis.


Cool baths or cool, wet compresses may help to soothe the itching. Doctors may recommend moisturizing creams or steroid creams to help sooth the skin and reduce the itch and swelling. Steroid tablets might be needed to treat severe episodes of dermatitis.


Avoiding specific known causes of contact dermatitis can help prevent this condition. Examples include: wearing gloves when using chemicals, using a low-irritant soap and doing a patch test before using a new cosmetic or fragrance. Using a barrier cream on the skin (such as sorbolene) may protect against some causes of contact dermatitis.

Other names for contact dermatitis

  • Allergic contact dermatitis