Has your skin ever become red, inflamed, or sore after dealing with a certain substance or item? Chances are you were experiencing contact dermatitis, an annoying, though highly treatable, skin condition. There are two kinds of contact dermatitis: allergic and irritant. The latter is more common, though both types can affect anyone.
Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when a person is exposed to a material or substance to which one has become allergic or extremely sensitive. A person may have the allergy from birth, or it may develop over time due to recurring exposure. In addition, sometimes allergic contact dermatitis only occurs when the allergen is used, and then the skin is exposed to sunlight. Some of the more common causes of allergic contact dermatitis are:
- Rubber and latex
- Topical antibiotics
- Poisonous plants, such as oak, ivy, and sumac
- Certain fabrics
- Nickel and similar metals
- Artificial (and sometimes natural) fragrances
- Nail polish
- Hair dye
- Airborne allergens, including ragweed and insecticides
Irritant contact dermatitis is generally caused by harsh chemicals, like those found in cleaning products, fabric softeners, acids, and the like. Other causes of irritant contact dermatitis include:
- Hair dye
- Wet diapers
- Rubber gloves
- Shampoo and conditioner
Symptoms of contact dermatitis differ due to the cause of the reaction and whether one is experiencing allergic or irritant contact dermatitis. Generally, symptoms only occur on the area exposed to the irritant, hence the name contact dermatitis. Rarely, symptoms will occur in other areas as well.
Allergic contact dermatitis will appear as streaked red skin, or as a patchy red rash. It won’t appear right away; instead, the reaction will occur 24-48 hours after exposure, which makes the irritant difficult to pinpoint. The reaction may include red bumps, weeping blisters, scaling and thick skin, raw skin, crusting skin, oozing wounds, or unusually warm patches.
Alternatively, irritant contact dermatitis usually appears right after exposure to the irritant, and is rough, red, dry, and cracked. With extreme or prolonged exposure, skin may also become inflamed and tender.
If you believe that your long-term sensitive skin may actually be contact dermatitis, consider doing a product cleanse. Give your skin a two week detox from all skin care and makeup products. Then, slowly add your products back in, one at a time, allowing 3-4 days between each product. If you experience a reaction, you may have to find a replacement for the offending product.
Finally, if you know that you are experiencing either form of contact dermatitis, start treatment by washing the area with cool water. Use soap only if you know that it won’t further irritate the area. Comfort the affected skin by using a gentle emollient, preferably one which will help to repair your lipid barrier. For extreme reactions, use of a corticosteriod cream, or even pills, may be prescribed by your dermatologist.