Contact Dermatitis



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:

  • Acids
  • Alkalis—such as bleach or oven cleaner
  • Solvents—can be found in dry cleaning, nail polish remover
  • Acetone—can be found in electronics, makeup, medicine, textiles
  • Soaps, detergents
  • Metals, such as nickel—common in jewelry allergy
  • Rubber or latex
  • Make up, creams, lotions, aftershave
  • Deodorants
  • Sunlight or artificial light
  • Preservatives
  • Plants, such as poison ivy
  • Medicine

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of contact dermatitis are:

  • Jobs that have regular contact with problem substances
  • Outdoor activities such as hiking and gardening
  • Allergies to some things, such as plants, chemicals, or medicine



Symptoms of contact dermatitis may differ from person to person. The rash may cause:

  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Blisters
  • Crusting, leaking, and scaling
  • Skin that feels thicker

The 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 put on the skin and covered with tape. The patch is removed after a period of time. If skin is red and swollen under the patch, the substance put on 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:

  • Skin care, such as:
  • Gently washing and drying the area
  • Applying petroleum jelly
  • Using cool compresses or oatmeal baths to ease symptoms
  • Leaving open blisters alone and covering them with a bandage
  • Medicines such as:
  • Creams and ointments applied to the skin
  • Antihistamines to ease itching—may help some
  • Cortisone creams or pills
  • Medicines that adjust the immune system—if a reaction is severe or will not improve

Phototherapy uses light to ease some inflammation. It may also be used for severe reactions or those that keep coming back.


To prevent contact dermatitis:

  • Find out what substances are causing the problem. Try to avoid them.
  • Use gloves or protective clothing if you have to come into contact with the problem substance.
  • Use protective skin cream.
  • Take care of skin. Use gentle cleansers and moisturizers.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.