by Jennifer Hellwig, MS, RD
Contact dermatitis is inflammation of the outer layers of the skin. It happens after contact with something that the body is irritated by. It will cause a rash in the place the substance touched.
Contact dermatitis is most often caused by something that irritates the skin or causes an allergic reaction. It may be something that was often around but never caused problems before. Some common causes of contact dermatitis are:
Things that may increase the risk of contact dermatitis are:
Symptoms may differ from person to person. The rash may have:
Rash is often only in the place where the contact happened. Sometimes it may spread.
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. Contact dermatitis may be diagnosed based on the rash itself. The doctor may ask questions to see what may have caused the problem. The cause may not always be clear.
A patch test may be done to find out what is causing the problem. A small amount of a substance is applied to the skin and covered with tape. The patch is removed after a period of time. If your skin is red and swollen under the patch, the substance applied to the skin is probably causing the problem.
It will take a few days to a couple weeks for the skin to clear. It is important to stay away from the substance that caused the problem. Steps to help the area while it heals include:
Damage to skin can lead to an infection. To keep the skin as healthy as possible:
Over-the-counter medicine may help to ease symptoms. Options include:
Prescription medicine may be recommended such as:
Phototherapy may also be used for severe reactions or those that keep coming back. It uses light to ease some inflammation.
To prevent contact dermatitis:
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
American Academy of Dermatology
Canadian Dermatology Association
Mowad CM, Anderson B, et al. Allergic contact dermatitis: Patient diagnosis and evaluation. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016 Jun;74(6):1029-40
Contact dermatitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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Accessed January 29, 2021.
Contact dermatitis overview. American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) website. Available at: https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/contact-dermatitis. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Shawna Grubb, RN