What is Contact Dermatitis? What are Its Causes, Types and Remedies?

HK Vitals

Medically Reviewed By Dr. Aarti Nehra

If you observe blistered, itchy, cracked, or dry skin, it might be due to contact dermatitis, one of the most common skin issues affecting 1 in every 5 people. It is of different types and presents with diverse symptoms that are not too difficult to identify.

In this blog, we will explore the various aspects of contact dermatitis – what it is and what helps treat it.

What is Contact Dermatitis? 

Contact dermatitis is a skin disorder which results from direct contact with certain substances. It is a form of eczematous dermatitis caused by contact with irritants or allergens like cosmetics, jewelry, and plants. This condition is not contagious and usually appears as red, itchy, and sometimes blistering skin. Symptoms typically appear within days of exposure.

Contact Dermatitis Causes and Types

Experts usually divide contact dermatitis into two classes: allergic and irritant.

1. Irritant Contact Dermatitis

This common type occurs when an irritant destroys the outer protective coating of the skin. It can occur after a single exposure to strong irritants or gradually occur with repeated contact, even with milder varieties such as soap and water. Over time, some people may develop a tolerance to the substance.

Common irritants encompass:

  • Solvents
  • Rubber gloves
  • Bleach and detergents
  • Hair products
  • Soap
  • Airborne substances
  • Plants
  • Fertilizers and pesticides

2. Allergic Contact Dermatitis

This subtype arises when an allergen stimulates a reaction in the skin and only affects the area which came into contact with it. Sensitivity to allergens builds up over many years, and once people are sensitized, it takes only a tiny bit of allergenic substance for them to have an adverse reaction.

Common allergens include:

  • Nickel (found in jewelry and buckles)
  • Medications (like antibiotic creams)
  • Balsam of Perú (used as a fragrance in perfumes, toothpaste, and mouth rinses; also used for flavoring)
  • Formaldehyde (used in some preservatives and cosmetics)
  • Certain personal care products like body washes, hair dyes, and cosmetics
  • Plants like poison ivy and mango containing urushiol
  • Allergens in the air (ragweed pollen, spray insecticides)

Remedies and Treatments for Contact Dermatitis

Let’s discuss some effective remedies and treatments for this condition

Topical Treatments

  • Corticosteroid Creams: Creams containing corticosteroids can ease inflammation and itching. Potent topical corticosteroids, such as clobetasol propionate 0.05 % cream, can reduce inflammation effectively. 
  • Non-Steroidal Creams: Non-steroidal creams or ointments may be prescribed in some cases.

Wet Compresses

Soothe inflammation and reduce itching with cool, wet compresses on the affected area.


  • Oral antihistamines can provide relief from itching.
  • For itching (pruritus), antihistamines, such as hydroxyzine and cetirizine are recommended.

Oatmeal Baths

  • You can take a cool bath with colloidal oatmeal to relieve itchy skin.

Emollients for Hydration

Emollients help keep the skin moisturized and prevent dryness.

Immunomodulating Drugs

Ointments containing tacrolimus and cream with pimecrolimus, which inhibit calcineurin, have proven beneficial in treating allergic contact dermatitis.


Contact dermatitis, an itching allergy from direct exposure to irritants or allergens, can make you miserable. Following the above tips and avoiding certain cosmetic products can help you soothe your skin. However, if the symptoms persist, contacting an allergist or immunologist will be the best step towards treating this condition.

HK Vitals


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