Contact Dermatitis-Dr-Colin-Hong

Contact dermatitis is a common and often uncomfortable skin condition that affects many people around the world. It is an inflammation of the skin that occurs when it comes in contact with certain substances, such as soaps, detergents, cosmetics, jewelry, or even plants. Symptoms can range from mild to severe itching and discomfort, redness and swelling of the affected areas. Though there are different types of contact dermatitis, they share similar characteristics and causes.

Here, we will take a look at what exactly contact dermatitis is, its symptoms, how it’s diagnosed, potential treatments, and how to prevent it in the future. 

History and Definition

Contact dermatitis is a type of skin inflammation that occurs when the skin comes into contact with an irritant or allergen. It is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide.

The history of contact dermatitis can be traced back to the late 19th century when Austrian dermatologist, Josef Jadassohn, first described allergic contact dermatitis in 1895. He observed that some of his patients developed skin rashes after coming into contact with certain substances, such as nickel and rubber. He further developed the patch test, a method to identify the chemicals to which the patient was allergic. The patch test involves applying a small amount of the suspected allergen to the patient’s skin and monitoring the skin’s reaction to the substance over time. This test is still widely used today to diagnose allergic contact dermatitis.

In 1936, Danish dermatologist Carl-Ferdinand Fenger introduced the term “contact dermatitis” to describe the skin inflammation that results from contact with an irritant or allergen. He distinguished between two types of contact dermatitis: irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when the skin is exposed to an irritant, such as chemicals, acids, and soaps, which cause damage to the skin. Allergic contact dermatitis, on the other hand, is an immune-mediated reaction that occurs when the skin is exposed to an allergen, such as nickel, fragrances, and certain plants.

Over the years, there have been significant advances in the diagnosis and treatment of contact dermatitis. Today, contact dermatitis is a well-recognized condition that can be effectively managed with a combination of avoidance of the offending substance, topical corticosteroids, and other medications.


Contact dermatitis can cause a range of symptoms that can vary in severity and presentation, depending on the cause and the affected individual. Some common symptoms of contact dermatitis include:

  • Redness and inflammation: Affected skin can become red, swollen, and inflamed, especially around the site of contact with the irritant or allergen.


  • Itching and burning: Contact dermatitis can cause intense itching, burning, or stinging sensations, which can be distressing and uncomfortable.


  • Blistering and oozing: In some cases, contact dermatitis can cause blisters to form on the affected skin. The blisters can sometimes ooze fluid and become crusted over time.


  • Dryness and scaling: The affected skin may become dry, scaly, and flaky, especially in cases of chronic contact dermatitis.


  • Thickening and cracking: Long-term exposure to irritants or allergens can cause the skin to thicken and become tough, which can lead to cracks and fissures in the skin.


  • Secondary infection: If the affected skin becomes damaged or cracked, it can be vulnerable to secondary infections by bacteria or fungi, which can cause additional symptoms like pus or discharge.

These symptoms can appear anywhere on the body, depending on the site of contact with the irritant or allergen, and can occur within minutes to hours or even days after exposure. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.


Here are some common causes of contact dermatitis:

  • Irritants: Exposure to irritants such as soaps, detergents, chemicals, solvents, and acids can cause contact dermatitis. These substances can damage the skin, leading to inflammation and redness.


  • Allergens: Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the skin comes into contact with a substance that the body is allergic to. Common allergens include metals like nickel, cosmetics, perfumes, dyes, and plants like poison ivy, oak, or sumac.


  • Genetics: Some people may be more prone to contact dermatitis due to their genetic makeup. Individuals with a family history of eczema or allergies are more likely to develop contact dermatitis.


  • Occupational exposure: Certain jobs like healthcare workers, hairdressers, construction workers, and janitors are more likely to develop contact dermatitis due to their exposure to irritants and allergens in their workplace.


  • Medications: Some medications can cause contact dermatitis when applied topically to the skin. These include antibiotics, antifungal creams, and corticosteroids.


  • Infections: Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections can cause contact dermatitis. Infections like impetigo and herpes simplex can cause blisters and rashes that resemble contact dermatitis.


  • Heat and friction: Prolonged exposure to heat or friction can cause contact dermatitis, especially in areas like the groin, underarms, and between the thighs.

It is essential to identify the cause of contact dermatitis to prevent further exposure and recurrence. 


Contact dermatitis is a type of skin inflammation that occurs when the skin comes into contact with an irritant or an allergen. To diagnose contact dermatitis, a doctor will typically perform a physical examination and take a medical history. Here are the steps involved in the diagnosis of contact dermatitis:

  • Physical examination: The doctor will examine the affected skin and look for signs of redness, swelling, blisters, or crusts. The doctor may also check for other skin conditions that can mimic contact dermatitis.


  • Medical history: The doctor will ask about the patient’s medical history, including any allergies or sensitivities to certain substances. The doctor will also inquire about the patient’s occupation, hobbies, and recent exposure to irritants or allergens.


  • Patch test: In some cases, a patch test may be necessary to determine the specific allergen causing the contact dermatitis. A small patch containing potential allergens is applied to the skin, and the skin is monitored for a reaction.


  • Biopsy: A skin biopsy may be necessary in rare cases to rule out other skin conditions or to confirm the diagnosis of contact dermatitis.

Once the diagnosis of contact dermatitis is confirmed, the doctor will work with the patient to identify and eliminate the source of the irritant or allergen.


Contact dermatitis is a type of skin inflammation that occurs when the skin comes into contact with an irritant or allergen. The treatment for contact dermatitis depends on the severity of the condition and the underlying cause.


  • Avoid the irritant: The first step in treating contact dermatitis is to identify and avoid the irritant or allergen that caused the reaction. This may involve changing soaps, detergents, or other products that come into contact with the skin.


  • Topical steroids: Topical steroids are a common treatment for contact dermatitis. These creams or ointments are applied directly to the affected area and work by reducing inflammation and relieving itching.


  • Emollients: Emollients are moisturizing creams or lotions that help to soothe and hydrate the skin. They can be used in combination with topical steroids to help reduce inflammation and prevent further skin damage.


  • Antihistamines: Antihistamines can help to relieve itching and reduce inflammation. They are often used in combination with topical steroids to provide relief from contact dermatitis symptoms.


In severe cases of contact dermatitis, surgery may be necessary to remove damaged skin and promote healing. This is more likely to occur in cases of chronic or recurrent contact dermatitis, or when the condition is not responding to other treatments.

  • Skin grafts: Skin grafts involve taking healthy skin from one area of the body and transplanting it to the affected area. This can be an effective treatment for severe cases of contact dermatitis where a large area of skin has been damaged.

  • Excision: Excision involves surgically removing damaged skin and promoting the growth of new, healthy skin. This is typically only used in cases of severe contact dermatitis where other treatments have failed.

After treatment for contact dermatitis, it is important to continue to avoid the irritant or allergen that caused the reaction. Depending on the severity of the condition and the type of treatment used, it may take several weeks or even months for the skin to fully heal.

Risk Factors

While anyone can develop contact dermatitis, there are certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing the condition.

  • Occupation: People who work in certain industries, such as healthcare, hairdressing, or construction, may be at increased risk of developing contact dermatitis. This is because they may come into contact with irritants or allergens on a regular basis as part of their job.


  • Atopic dermatitis: People who have a history of atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, are more likely to develop contact dermatitis. This is because their skin barrier is already compromised, making it easier for irritants and allergens to penetrate the skin.


  • Personal history: If you have had contact dermatitis in the past, you are more likely to develop the condition again in the future. This is particularly true if you were exposed to the same irritant or allergen that caused the initial reaction.


  • Allergies: People who have allergies to certain substances, such as metals, fragrances, or latex, are at increased risk of developing contact dermatitis. Exposure to these allergens can trigger an immune response, leading to skin inflammation.


  • Age: While contact dermatitis can occur at any age, it is more common in adults than in children. This may be because adults are more likely to be exposed to irritants and allergens in the workplace or through hobbies and activities.


  • Gender: Women are more likely to develop contact dermatitis than men. This may be because they are more likely to work in industries that expose them to irritants and allergens, such as healthcare or beauty.

Usually, not everyone who is exposed to an irritant or allergen will develop contact dermatitis. However, if you have any of the above risk factors, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of the condition and to take steps to prevent exposure to potential irritants and allergens.


Here are some potential complications that can arise if it is not treated promptly and appropriately.

  • Bacterial infections: When the skin is inflamed and damaged, it is more vulnerable to bacterial infections. Scratching the affected area can also introduce bacteria into the skin, increasing the risk of infection. Symptoms of a bacterial infection may include redness, swelling, pain, and the formation of pus-filled blisters.


  • Fungal infections: Fungal infections can also occur in areas of the skin that are inflamed and moist, such as the folds of the skin or areas that have been covered by bandages. Symptoms of a fungal infection may include itching, redness, and the formation of a scaly rash.


  • Chronic skin damage: If contact dermatitis is not treated promptly and appropriately, it can lead to chronic skin damage. This can include thickening and discoloration of the skin, as well as the development of deep, painful cracks or fissures.


  • Psychological effects: Contact dermatitis can be extremely uncomfortable and disruptive to daily life. It can also be unsightly, causing embarrassment or self-consciousness. In severe cases, the condition can lead to anxiety, depression, or other psychological effects.


  • Allergic reactions: In rare cases, contact dermatitis can trigger an allergic reaction throughout the body. This can cause symptoms such as swelling, hives, difficulty breathing, or a drop in blood pressure. This type of reaction, known as anaphylaxis, is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment.

It is important to seek medical attention if you are experiencing symptoms of contact dermatitis to prevent the condition from worsening and causing long-term damage to the skin. With prompt and appropriate treatment, most cases of contact dermatitis can be managed effectively and without complications.

When to See a Doctor

You should consider seeing a doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of contact dermatitis that are severe, persistent, or interfering with your daily activities. Some specific signs and symptoms that may warrant a visit to the doctor include:

  • Severe itching, pain, or discomfort
  • Widespread rash or blisters
  • Signs of infection, such as pus, redness, or fever
  • Swelling or difficulty breathing
  • Rash that covers a large area of the body
  • Rash that is spreading rapidly
  • Rash that is not responding to over-the-counter treatments
  • Discomfort that interferes with daily activities, such as work or sleep
  • Additionally, if you are unsure what is causing your rash, or if you suspect that you may have been exposed to a toxic substance, it is a good idea to seek medical attention.

A doctor, dermatologist, or plastic surgeon can help diagnose the cause of your rash and recommend appropriate treatments, including prescription medications, topical creams, or other therapies. They can also provide advice on how to prevent future episodes of contact dermatitis and manage any complications that may arise from the condition.

Step-by-Step Guide to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treatment

Here is a step-by-step guide to the treatment of contact dermatitis:


The first step in the topical treatment of contact dermatitis is to consult with a doctor,  dermatologist, or plastic surgeon. They will evaluate the severity and type of the condition, as well as any underlying medical conditions or medications that may be contributing to the rash. They may also perform tests to identify any potential allergens or irritants that may be causing the rash.

Treatment Plans

The treatment plan for contact dermatitis typically involves identifying and avoiding triggers, treating symptoms with topical medications, and taking steps to soothe and moisturize the skin. Overall, treatment plans for contact dermatitis are tailored to the individual and aim to provide relief from symptoms while preventing future episodes.

Follow-Up Appointments

The doctor will schedule follow-up appointments to monitor the patient’s progress and adjust the treatment plan as needed. They may also perform additional tests or refer the patient to an allergist or immunologist if necessary.

After Treatment

After the treatment, the patient should expect to see a reduction in symptoms, such as itching and redness. The rash may take several days to weeks to heal completely, depending on the severity of the condition. 

It is important to continue using any prescribed medications and following the doctor’s instructions to prevent a recurrence of the rash. If the symptoms do not improve or worsen after treatment, or if new symptoms develop, the patient should contact their doctor immediately.


In conclusion, contact dermatitis is a common skin condition that can be caused by different irritants and allergens. It can cause redness, itching, swelling, and other uncomfortable symptoms. Treatment includes avoiding the allergen or irritant causing the reaction, using topical medications, and sometimes oral antibiotics. Taking steps to prevent contact dermatitis in the first place is also important. Knowing what materials might lead to an allergic reaction is key to preventing contact dermatitis flare-ups. With proper management and avoidance of known triggers, people with contact dermatitis can manage their condition well and enjoy healthy skin for years to come. 


With over 35 years of experience, Dr. Colin Hong is a renowned plastic surgeon in Toronto who specializes in Cosmetic, Plastic and Reconstructive surgeries. He is widely recognized for his expertise and high-quality work, which is also affordable compared to other plastic surgeons in Toronto, North York, and Markham.

To schedule a consultation with Dr. Hong, please contact his office at (416) 222-6986 or email us at We kindly request that you provide your full name, email, and phone number so that we can reach you promptly. Additionally, please ensure that you have obtained a referral from your family doctor to set up an appointment for contact dermatitis treatment with Dr. Colin Hong.

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