For the next episode of my Skin Allergy Snapshot series, I wanted to clear up a frequently confused disease: contact dermatitis.
Because of their common name, contact dermatitis, is often misdiagnosed as a more general dermatitis.
Dermatitis is an umbrella term for "inflammation of the skin". Although contact dermatitis falls into this category, variations like eczema fall into this category.
What is contact dermatitis and what does it look like?
Contact dermatitis is a reaction caused by direct contact with an irritant or allergen. It generally manifests as dry, red, itchy skin that can break or blister and feel sore.
There are two main types of contact dermatitis: differentiated by their triggers.
Irritation Contact Dermatitis
Irritation Contact Dermatitis accounts for approximately 80% of cases of contact dermatitis. It is caused by a strong reaction to an external irritant.
Common irritants are
- Cleaning agents (soaps, washing-up liquids, bleach, etc.)
- Solvents (alcohol)
- Synthetic Chemicals
Because it is caused by touch, irritant contact dermatitis most often affects the hands and makes them a frustratingly visible condition for those affected.
It can result from a single exposure to a strong irritant or a longer exposure to a weaker one. If the trigger is not completely avoided, irritant contact dermatitis often persists because the first attack can damage the skin and sensitize the area.
Allergen contact dermatitis
] Allergen contact dermatitis is caused by the reaction of the immune system to a certain substance. Such allergies arise from contact with an allergen for which we have been made aware.
It is not clear why some people become allergic and others not or why we can develop sensitivities to substances that we have been in contact with for years.
Common allergens are:
- Nickel (in jewelry and clothing – this is what we hear most about from customers)
- Fragrances, formaldehyde, hair dye, cosmetic preservatives
The most effective treatment for both forms of contact dermatitis is to completely avoid the triggers. If you are unsure of what they could be, ask a dermatologist to run a patch test to identify them.
Cleaning your cosmetics is a good start. Avoid foaming face detergents, shampoos and shower gels as they contain harsh detergents.
Read the ingredient lists for your beauty products and identify and eliminate common triggers. I was particularly sensitive to phenoxyethanol and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate (both cosmetic preservatives).
Although it may not cure symptoms, regular moisturizing helps soothe inflamed skin. 75% of cases of contact dermatitis occur on the hands. Therefore, apply a gentle emollient, such as Pais Fragonia & Sea Buckthorn hand therapy cream, for regular hydration.
If your skin is particularly dry, try our comfrey & calendula body cream. Its therapeutic formula soothes skin prone to allergies and heals and regenerates particularly damaged areas.