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

Eczema is the name for a group of conditions that cause skin to become irritated and dry.

With treatment, most people with contact dermatitis can expect their symptoms to improve. Some cases will clear up completely.

This topic covers:


When to seek medical advice




Other types of eczema

Symptoms of contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis causes the skin to become red, blistered, dry and cracked.

This reaction usually occurs within 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 about symptoms of contact dermatitis.

When to seek medical advice

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.

Your GP may refer you to a dermatologist (a doctor who specialises in treating skin conditions) for further tests if:

  • the substance causing your contact dermatitis can't be identified
  • your symptoms aren't responding to treatment

Read about diagnosing contact dermatitis.

Causes of contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis 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 is most commonly caused by irritants such as soaps and detergents, solvents or regular contact with water.

Read about causes of contact dermatitis.

Treating contact dermatitis

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:

  • emollients  moisturisers applied to the skin to stop it becoming dry
  • topical corticosteroids  steroid ointments and creams applied to the skin to relieve severe symptoms
  • oral corticosteroids  steroid tablets that can help relieve widespread symptoms

Read about treating contact dermatitis.

Preventing contact dermatitis

The best way to prevent contact dermatitis is to avoid contact with the allergens or irritants that cause your symptoms.

If you can't avoid contact, you can take steps to reduce the risk of the allergens or irritants causing symptoms, including:

  • clean your skin  if you come into contact with an allergen or irritant, rinse the affected skin with warm water and an emollient as soon as possible
  • use gloves to protect your hands  but take them off every now and again, as sweating can make any symptoms worse; you may find it useful to wear cotton gloves underneath rubber gloves if the rubber also irritates you
  • change products that irritate your skin  check the ingredients on make-up or soap to make sure it doesn't contain any irritants or allergens; in some cases, you may need to contact the manufacturer, or check online to get this information
  • apply emollients frequently and in large amounts  these keep your skin hydrated and help protect it from allergens and irritants; you could also use emollient soap substitutes rather than regular bar or liquid soaps, as these can dry out your skin

Other types of eczema

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  circular or oval patches of eczema on the skin
  • varicose eczema  this most often affects the lower legs; caused by problems with the flow of blood through the leg veins

Page last reviewed: 10/10/2016

Next review due: 10/10/2019