Contact Dermatitis

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Contact dermatitis is inflammation of the outer layers of skin caused by contact with a particular substance. It appears as a rash on the specific body part the substance touched. 

Contact dermatitis is usually caused by either something that irritates the skin or an allergen that causes an allergic reaction. You may be exposed to certain substances for years and never have a problem before developing contact dermatitis.

Some common causes of contact dermatitis include:

  • Acids
  • Alkalis
  • Solvents
  • Acetone
  • Soaps
  • Detergents
  • Metals, such as nickel (common in jewelry allergy)
  • Rubber
  • Latex
  • Cosmetics and toiletries
  • Deodorants
  • Preservatives
  • Plants, such as poison ivy
  • Medications

Contact Dermatitis Symptoms

contact dermatitis
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The symptoms of contact dermatitis may vary from person to person. Scratching and rubbing can cause or worsen some symptoms. The rash is usually confined to the area where the contact with the substance occurred, but occasionally may spread. 

Symptoms include:

  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Blisters
  • Crusting, oozing and scaling
  • Temporary thickening of the skin

Diagnosis & Treatment at UVA

Treatment aims to identify the substance that causes your reaction. Your doctor may order a skin patch test.

During this test, your doctor applies a small amount of the suspected substance to your skin and covers it with tape. Your doctor applies a second patch to your skin without the substance. After a period of time, your doctor removes both patches and compares the areas of skin. You may be allergic to the substance if the substance patch leaves your skin red or swollen.

Treatment also focuses on caring for skin and relieving symptoms. 


Your doctor may recommend the following: 

  • Over-the-counter or prescription creams and ointments containing cortisone
  • Prescription medications containing corticosteroids (for severe cases)
  • Prescription or over-the-counter antihistamines 

If you have a severe case that resists the above treatments, your doctor may recommend immunosuppressants or phototherapy.

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.