Contact Dermatitis 101 with Dr. Shannon Humphrey

Contact Dermatitis 101 with Dr. Shannon Humphrey


Contact dermatitis is a skin presentation when a patient has a reaction to something that is applied on the skin. Dermatitis and eczema mean the same thing. Patients who have those conditions have patches on the skin that are red, scaly; they often feel itchy, or a little bit irritated, and one particular cause of dermatitis, is via contact. Now even with contact dermatitis, there are two primary causes. Allergic contact dermatitis, which is actually the less common cause, is when a patient has a true allergy. Several days after something comes in contact with the skin, they may get blisters, and intense itching, plus patches of dermatitis. Much more common, but less talked about, is a type called irritant contact dermatitis, and this is very very common. So, it’s when something comes in contact with the skin, causes redness and scaling, that may come with itch. This can be caused by things like personal care products, laundry products like detergent, and softeners particularly if they have fragrances. Actually, the most common cause of irritant contact dermatitis, is water. So, excessive and frequent exposure to water without appropriate moisturization. So, what do I usually recommend for patients as something they can try if they suspect they have a contact dermatitis whether it’s allergic or irritant. It’s important to avoid contact with whatever they suspect is the cause, and sometimes it does take a discussion with your doctor or dermatologist to identify what that might be. Another safe thing to try is to use a bland, fragrance free moisturizer regularly. That can help to restore the skin barrier. The barrier function of the skin is so critical to keep moisture in, and to keep irritants and allergens out, and a bland fragrance free moisturizer can help to restore the barrier. Finally, choosing products that are less likely to cause irritant or allergic contact dermatitis, so these are skincare products and fabric care products that are fragrance free. There are certain groups of people that are more prone to irritant contact dermatitis. One group, is a group that already has eczema, particularly the type called atopic dermatitis. So this is the inherited type of eczema, that tends to occur in people who are allergic or have asthma. Other groups would be babies and older adults, because older adults have an impaired barrier function that does tend to get a little bit worse over time, so people with eczema, babies, and older adults may be more likely to have irritant contact dermatitis. Absolutely, fragrance is a real problem, both with irritant and allergic contact dermatitis. It’s in fact, probably the most common ingredient in fabric care that causes irritation, and so one of the first thing I recommend for patients who have a contact dermatitis, is to choose fabric care products but also skincare products, so deodorant, sunscreen, facial care products like moisturizers and cleansers that are fragrance free.

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