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Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a red, itchy rash caused by an allergic reaction.  

What is contact dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is a type of eczema triggered by contact with a specific substance.  

It can affect any area of the body.  

What are the symptoms of contact dermatitis?

Symptoms include:  

  • A red rash 
  • Itching  
  • Dry, crack or scaly skin 
  • Bumps and blisters 
  • Swelling, burning or tenderness  

Lighter skin can appear red, while darker skin may become dark brown, purple or grey.  

The reaction usually occurs a few hours or days after exposure, and most commonly affects the face or hands.  

What causes contact dermatitis?

The cause of contact dermatitis is a reaction to an irritant or allergen.  

Common examples include: 

  • Irritants such as soaps, detergents, solvents or regular contact with water  
  • Allergens like make-up, perfumes,  jewellery or hair dye  

You may be more at risk at developing contact dermatitis if your job includes regular exposure to allergens or irritants, such as healthcare workers, machine operators, cooks, cleaners or beauticians.  

Contact dermatitis is not infectious

How is contact dermatitis diagnosed?

If you think that you may have contact dermatitis a pharmacist will be able to help.  

If you have persistent, recurring contact dermatitis, a skin infection, or the condition is causing you a lot of pain, visit your GP or a specialist. They will usually be able to diagnose you by looking at your skin and taking a medical history.  

Your GP or specialist will work with you to look into what triggers your contact dermatitis to help alleviate the cause. They may do patch testing, which is when tiny amounts of allergens are applied to your skin to see if you react to them, to help identify your trigger.  

Your GP may refer you to a specialist if your trigger is illusive or your symptoms are not responding to treatment.  


How is contact dermatitis treated?

It is best to identify and eliminate exposure to the allergen or irritant that is causing your contact dermatitis. This will help the symptoms and avoid the condition occurring again.  

There are a number of treatments to help alleviate the symptoms including:  

  • Emollients (moisturisers) 
  • Topical corticosteroids  
  • Steroid tablets  

Some people also find relief from their symptoms using herbal or alternative medicine.  

You can help prevent the condition by: 

  • Avoiding irritants and allergens 
  • Washing your skin immediately after contact with an allergen or irritant 
  • Wearing protective clothing, including gloves 
  • Applying a barrier cream or gel 
  • Regularly moisturising  
  • Taking care around pets, whose fur may carry allergens  

This content has been checked and approved by

Professor Jonathan White  ›

Professor Jonathan White is a consultant dermatologist at King Edward VII’s Hospital.

Find your specialist in contact dermatitis at King Edward VII's Hospital

If you suspect you have contact dermatitis and you’re seeking an expert opinion, you can find the UK’s leading dermatology specialists here at King Edward VII’s Hospital. Our consultants are hand-picked for you, making it easy to access the best possible care.

Professor Jonathan White  ›
Special interests include:
Skin allergies (+ 5) more

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