Contact dermatitis is a skin irritation that is caused by coming into contact with irritant or allergic triggers. It may be caused by direct contact with substances such as detergents, skin cleaners, oils and solvents. It may also develop when the skin has a reaction to certain creams and lotions, shampoos, hair dye, perfume, jewellery and the metal backing of some watches.
Contact dermatitis often affects the hands. A red rash develops which may be dry and itchy. Scratching the rash may cause it to open and bleed, or become infected.
Contact dermatitis is treated in a similar way to eczema, with special attention to avoiding known irritants whenever possible. Click on the treatment tab at the top of this section for more information on the treatment of contact dermatitis.
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How Contact Dermatitis is treated
Avoid known triggers or irritants:
- Wear clothing made from breathable fibres such as cotton; avoid rough scratchy fabrics and tight clothing.
- Use soap substitutes that do not dry out the skin.
- Avoid bubble baths and prolonged bathing or showering, which tend to dry out the skin.
- Gently pat the skin dry to avoid excess rubbing of the skin.
- Apply a perfume-free moisturiser to the skin after bathing to lock in the moisture.
- Try to avoid prolonged contact with sand and wet clothing.
- Get to know your dermatitis triggers and avoid or minimise contact with these.
Creams and ointments:
- Applying perfume-free moisturisers to the skin several times per day can help to minimise dryness.
- Creams or ointments prescribed by your doctor can help to reduce redness and itchiness of the skin. Some contain a type of steroid called a corticosteroid, which acts to reduce the inflammation of the skin.
- Antihistamine medications help to reduce itchiness however they can cause drowsiness so should be avoided during the daytime.
- Antibiotics may be used when the skin is infected.
- Wet bandaging can help to soothe itching and heal skin lesions and are often applied in hospital several times per day.