Introduction 

Contact dermatitis is inflammation of the skin that occurs when you come into contact with a particular substance.

It can be caused by:

  • an irritant  a substance that directly damages the outer layer of skin
  • an allergen  a substance that causes the immune system to respond in a way that affects the skin

Contact dermatitis caused by irritants is more common, causing up to 8 in every 10 cases.

Read more about the causes of contact dermatitis.

Signs and symptoms

Contact dermatitis is a type of eczema that causes the skin to become red, blistered, dry, scaly and cracked.

This reaction will usually occur with a few hours or days of exposure to an irritant or allergen.

Symptoms can affect any part of the body, but most commonly affect the hands and face.

Read more about the symptoms of contact dermatitis.

Seeking medical advice

You should see your GP if you have persistent, recurrent or severe symptoms of contact dermatitis. They can try to identify the cause and suggest appropriate treatments.

They can also refer you for further tests to confirm which specific irritant or allergen is causing your symptoms.

Read more about diagnosing contact dermatitis.

How contact dermatitis is treated

If you can successfully avoid the irritants or allergens that trigger your symptoms, your skin will eventually clear up.

However, as this isn't always possible, you may also be advised to use:

With treatment, most people with contact dermatitis can expect their symptoms to improve, and some cases will resolve completely.

Read more about treating contact dermatitis and preventing contact dermatitis


Eczema

Atopic eczema is the most common type of eczema, affecting around one in 12 adults and one in five children in the UK. In this video, Dr Dawn Harper talks about living with the condition.

Media last reviewed: 10/01/2013

Next review due: 10/01/2015

Other types of eczema

Eczema is the name for a group of skin conditions that cause dry, irritated skin. Other types of eczema include:

  • atopic eczema (also called atopic dermatitis)  the most common type of eczema; it often runs in families and is linked to other conditions, such as asthma and hay fever
  • discoid eczema  a type of eczema that occurs in circular or oval patches on the skin
  • varicose eczema  a type of eczema that most often affects the lower legs and is caused by problems with the flow of blood through the leg veins

Page last reviewed: 21/10/2014

Next review due: 21/10/2016