You notice that a patch of skin is starting to feel itchy, and when you look at the affected area, you see that it has become red and swollen, or that it has a burn-like appearance. You’re most likely experiencing contact dermatitis, a common type of eczema that occurs when your skin has a reaction to a foreign substance.
There are two types of contact dermatitis: irritant and allergic. Irritant contact dermatitis is the most common form, occurring when the skin comes into contact with a toxic substance, such as household cleaners or pepper spray. This type of contact dermatitis can also occur when the skin is frequently exposed to a milder substance, such as soap or even water. In fact, people who are frequently exposed to water, such as hairdressers or healthcare professionals, often develop contact dermatitis.
Allergic contact dermatitis is just what it sounds like: it occurs when the skin experiences an allergic reaction to a foreign substance. The body releases chemicals in response to that substance, leading to itching, redness, and swelling of the skin. An allergic reaction like this can occur suddenly (for example, the first time you try a new lotion or makeup product) or after months of exposure to a certain substance (such as nickel in jewelry or a wristwatch).
Dermatitis Skin Diagram
What Are the Signs of Contact Dermatitis?
The symptoms of irritant and allergic contact dermatitis vary from person to person and depend on how sensitive your skin is to a particular substance. However, some of the most common symptoms include:
- Dry or scaly skin
- Feeling itchy
- Skin that feels tight or stiff
- Cracked skin
- Blisters or open sores
What Can You Do About Contact Dermatitis?
The good news about contact dermatitis is that it usually goes away on its own within about two to three weeks. During this time, it’s important to avoid contact with the irritating substance that caused this condition. You should also try to avoid scratching your skin, as this can make the inflammation worse. If the itching is particularly bad, you can try an over-the-counter remedy such as hydrocortisone cream, a topical steroid that reduces inflammation.
If your skin irritation lasts more than a few weeks or becomes severe, you should see a doctor. Your doctor may want to schedule an appointment with an allergist in order to pinpoint the cause of your contact dermatitis.