What is contact dermatitis?

We get contact dermatitis when something that our skin touches causes a rash from irritation or an allergic reaction. Almost any chemical, including water, can damage the skin through contact. Toxic substances like fiberglass and turpentine quickly damage the skin.

Many people develop a type of contact dermatitis when working with certain chemicals found in hair dyes, solvents, paints, oils, foods or metalworking fluids. Some rashes happen immediately but most take time to appear. If you have had asthma, hay fever or atopic dermatitis (eczema) you are at higher risk for contact dermatitis.

Allergic contact dermatitis

Some people have an allergic skin reaction that develops with an itchy rash, dry skin that can burn or sting, sometimes with hives (welts), fluid filled or crusting blisters and skin that later flakes and cracks and may thicken. Allergic contact dermatitis is caused by many substances including:

  • Poison ivy
  • Makeup
  • Jewelry
  • Fragrances
  • Latex and rubber
  • Antibiotics applied to the skin
  • Animal dander
  • Dyes in clothing and shoes

Irritant contact dermatitis

This type is more common and develops when something irritates the skin. With enough contact, most things will irritate our skin, including mild irritants such as soap, shampoo, food, and water. Getting a strong irritant like battery acid or fiberglass on your skin just once also can cause irritant contact dermatitis.

It often starts with dry, cracked hands. In time, the skin on their hands may begin to sting and burn. The skin becomes very tender. Sometimes, the skin itches and bleeds.

Forms or irritant contact dermatitis include:

  • Diaper rash
  • Acid burn
  • Cracked hands due to lots of contact with water
  • Irritated skin around the mouth due to lip licking
  • Toxic substances such as battery acid and pepper spray quickly irritate the skin.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.