Characteristics of contact dermatitis

What is contact dermatitis?

Many substances at home or at work may produce skin irritation or even skin ulcers.

This is known as dermatitis by contact. You should know what product can be responsible, how to know if you are affected and what medical treatment you can follow.

Characteristics of  contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a type of non-infectious dermatitis produced by the reaction experienced by the skin to contact with an irritant substance.

This type of reaction can occur immediately or after some time after the contact.

It mainly affects adults and it usually does not extend beyond the irritated area unless it touches another part of the body.

It is produced mainly in the feet, hands or groins.

Types of contact dermatitis

There are two types of contact dermatitis:

  • Irritant contact dermatitis: It is the most common and occurs when substances that come in contact with skin produce lesions in it, which can range from simple irritation or redness to the creation of festering sores. This type of dermatitis mainly affects workers who are often in contact with irritating acidic or alkaline substances.

It is an important reason of absenteeism at work since it concerns different professions who come into contact with products that, in continuous and prolonged exposure, affect the skin.


Some professionals are specially subjected to possible dermatitis by contact.

Among the most affected occupations we can include: hairdressing, animal husbandry, gardening, floristry, construction, carpentry, leather industry, heavy metals, industrial or domestic cleaning, army, health, education, etc.

Among the irritants that can cause this type of dermatitis we have, for example, hairdressing dyes, chalk, gypsum in construction, carpentry strippers, fungicides, gardening products, etc.

  • Allergic contact dermatitis It is a type of manifestation at any one time produced when the skin produces immune reactions to any particular product. It does not produce a direct injury to the skin, which is affected by an irritant or corrosive substance. In this case, the immune system reacts disproportionately causing injury to its own tissues.

The trigger for this type of contact allergy can be varied as there are many substances that can induce it: perfumes, metals, cosmetics, pesticides, latex, medicines etc.

Although the causes that produce it are different from the ones that produce irritant contact dermatitis, in many cases result in similar consequences. Allergic dermatitis is not as common as the irritating type, as it only usually occurs about 20 to 30% of cases versus contact dermatitis.

Symptoms of contact dermatitis

Itching, redness, swelling in the most benign or, what is worse, the appearance of blisters with oozing pustules that produce dry scabs or raw sores.

At other times, they form thickened areas or dry skin.

Many irritant contact dermatitis are very similar to those given by allergic contact dermatitis. Sometimes the former are more easily distinguished because they show symptoms similar to burns.

Causes of contact dermatitis

The causes of contact dermatitis are irritants or allergens. Among the main ones, we can point out the following:


The simple contact with ivy can produce bad skin reactions in many people.

  • Allergen or irritant plants: Many plants are known to cause contact dermatitis. Some contain ingredients such as oxalic acid, as the case of wild arum. Others, like rue, have furocoumarins with phototoxic properties, and can cause dermatitis when the skin is exposed to contact with the sun.

Other very irritating plants are rosebay, spurge, ivy, elder, sumac, Morning-glory at night, dumb cane, clematis, the sea poppy, pothos gold, spurge flax daphne, honeysuckle, ginkgo, (See more toxic plants)

Essential oils of some medicinal plants, placed in contact with skin, if not diluted properly or in very sensitive skins, are also responsible for cases of dermatitis. Between these we have, for example: anise, eucalyptus, grapefruit, lavender, etc.

Some spices used to flavor foods, when they reach the skin directly, can also produce similar effects. Among them we have, for example, cinnamon.

nail polish

Some very used home chemicals, such as mail polishes, can be the reason of skin inflammations

  • Chemical agents: Other times, contact with chemicals at home or at work is responsible for these reactions on the skin. Among the many household products that can cause contact dermatitis we can include: detergents, solvents, nail polish, adhesives, cleaning products, perfume, chlorinated water, soaps, shampoos, shaving lotions, sunscreens, and even drugs, especially those applied to the skin. In the chemical industry, adhesives, solvents, paint strippers, pesticides, etc. are the cause of countless cases of contact dermatitis.
  • Metals and alloys: Sometimes contact dermatitis is caused because of allergy to metals, including those used in jewelry such as gold or alloys such as nickel, used in bracelets, rings, wrist watches, etc.

    people standing

    Some clothes made of wool can be responsible for contact dermatitis in some people

  • Textile fibers: Allergy to certain textile fibers such as wool, can also trigger it. Latex is responsible for many cases of contact allergy. It is quite common to suffer this type of allergy from products made from this material as condoms, bathing caps, gloves or shoes.
  • Insect bites: Within these adverse reactions we could also indicate those that take place by insect bites, like lice, fleas, bees, ticks, etc.

Diagnosis of contact dermatitis

The diagnosis of contact dermatitis is conducted through a medical review by the physician of the affected areas of skin.

To find the substance that causes adverse reactions, your physician, in addition to a physical exploration, usually will performed a questionnaire on your professional activity, useful to determine in many cases the specific cause of the dermatitis.

Other times, when the exploration and the interview fails to elucidate the exact cause, a series of tests can be carried out by the skin specialist:

  • Skin allergy testing: The skin is put in contact with certain substances to see what kind of reactions occur, which will allow the determination of the exact cause of these processes. (Finn chamber test).
  • Skin microscopic analysis: It may even be necessary a microscopic analysis of tissue samples.

Ordinary treatment of contact dermatitis

The ordinary treatment of contact dermatitis requires the participation of the doctor or dermatologist because there are many types and each one may require a different treatment.

In general, the first treatment is to avoid contact with the product that caused the dermatitis and implement a range of creams, many with corticosteroids, and skin softeners.

It is also recommended:

  • Not to use chemicals to wash the skin
  • Wet the skin as less as possible
  • Avoid sudden temperature changes.

In some cases it may be necessary to change jobs in order to avoid contact with substances that cause contact dermatitis.

Natural treatment of contact dermatitis

Natural treatment of contact dermatitis supposes the use of a series of natural resources that can help to prevent or to improve the symptoms of this anomaly.

punto rojo More information on the natural treatment of contact dermatitis and other types of dermatitis.

Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

6 April, 2020

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This material is for informational purposes only. In case of doubt, consult the doctor.
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Botanical-online is an informative page that describes, among other topics, the traditional uses of plants from a therapeutic point of view. Their descriptions do not replace professional advice. Botanical-online is not responsible for self-medication and recommends consulting with the physician.