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Contact Dermatitis

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What is Contact Dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis, or skin allergies, is a kind of skin inflammation that occurs when substances touching your skin cause irritation or an allergic reaction. The resulting red, itchy rash isn't contagious or life-threatening, but it can be very uncomfortable.

Culprits in everyday life include soaps, cosmetics, fragrances, jewelry, or plants such as poison ivy or poison oak. Some occupations involve exposure to substances that may cause contact dermatitis.


Successful contact dermatitis treatment consists primarily of identifying what's causing your reaction. If you can avoid that offending agent, the rash usually resolves in two to four weeks. Self-care measures, such as wet compresses and moisturizing creams, can also help soothe your skin by improving its barrier function and reduce inflammation.



  • Red rash or bumps

  • Itching, which may be severe

  • Dry, cracked, red patches, which may resemble a burn

  • Blisters, draining fluid and crusting in severe reactions

  • Skin rash limited to an exposed area — for example, directly under a watchband

  • Pain or tenderness


Contact dermatitis usually occurs in areas of your body that have been directly exposed to an offending substance — for example, under a watchband that triggers an allergy. But some reactions don't correlate exactly with areas of direct contact. For example, you may apply a lotion over your whole face, but only some areas may react.

If you've developed a skin sensitivity to something that later enters your whole body through medicine, foods and flavorings, or medical or dental procedures, you may have another reaction that occurs in the same areas as your original exposure or affects larger areas of your body.


Contact allergies are commonly caused by:

  • Nickel, a metal widely used in earrings and other costume jewelry, watchbands, zippers and clothing fasteners, hair curlers and eyelash curlers, and coins

  • Poison ivy, oak or sumac, which contain a strongly allergenic oil (urushiol)

  • Cashew nuts, which contain a substance chemically similar to the urushiol found in poison ivy

  • Antibiotics, antihistamines or antiseptics you apply to your skin as lotions or creams (topical medicines)

  • Fragrances (not all products labeled “fragrance free” are free of molecules that can cause contact allergies)

  • Strong detergents or soaps

  • Skin cleansers

  • Makeup and other cosmetics

  • Deodorant

  • Clothing or shoes

  • Household cleaning products

  • Formaldehyde and other chemicals

  • Natural rubber (latex)

  • Jewelry


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