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Skin conditions: What is contact dermatitis?

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Contact dermatitis is a form of eczema triggered by exposure to an irritating substance. The condition causes the skin to turn dry and irritated. If treated, the symptoms eventually settle. In some cases, the condition clears up entirely.


Contact dermatitis causes the skin to turn reddened, blistered, dry and cracked. The reaction generally occurs within a few hours or days of exposure to an allergen or irritant.

The symptoms can affect any part of the body but usually the face and hand are involved.

What is the cause?

The symptoms can affect any part of the body but usually the face and hand are involved.

Contact dermatitis can be triggered by:

  • Irritant – any substance that directly impairs the outer skin layer
  • Allergen – any substance that prompts the immune system to react in a way that it affects the skin

The skin condition is typically triggered by irritants such as detergents, soaps, solvents or regular contact with water.

Management of contact dermatitis

If the individual can avoid the potential allergens or irritants that instigate the symptoms, the affected area eventually clears up. Nevertheless, since this is not always possible, the following are usually advised:

  • Topical corticosteroids – steroid creams and ointments can be applied on the skin to alleviate the severe symptoms
  • Emollients – these are moisturizers that are applied on the skin to prevent dryness
  • Oral corticosteroids – steroids tablets that help relieve the widespread symptoms

Preventive measures

The ideal way to prevent contact dermatitis is to avoid exposure to any irritants or allergens that triggers the symptoms.

In case contact could not be avoided, there are steps that can be taken to lessen the risk for the allergens and irritants to trigger the symptoms such as:

  • Cleansing the skin – if exposed to the irritants or allergens, rinse the affected skin using warm water and an emollient as soon as possible
  • Wear gloves to protect the hands – they should be taken off every now and again since sweating can worsen the symptoms. It is best to use cotton gloves under rubber gloves if the rubber triggers irritation
  • Change products that irritate the skin – always check the ingredients on soaps or makeups used to ensure that they do not contain any allergens or irritants
  • Apply emollients regularly and in large amounts – these helps keep the skin properly hydrated and protect it from irritants and allergens. Emollient-based soap alternatives can be used instead of liquid or bar soaps since these can dry out the skin

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