Contact Dermatitis

Testing and treatment options you need to relieve itchy skin rashes.

When you get a rash after you touch something or you’re exposed to a certain substance, it’s called contact dermatitis. This is a common skin condition, but it sometimes can be a challenge to deal with on your own.

Our dermatologists will work to identify the cause of your contact dermatitis quickly and create a treatment plan to bring you relief.

What is contact dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is the general term for the inflamed skin reaction to various substances. There are two types of contact dermatitis: irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis.

What is irritant contact dermatitis?

When something takes away the surface oils that protect your skin, your skin can get irritated -- that’s irritant contact dermatitis. It is the most common form of the condition. Anyone at any age can have irritant contact dermatitis.

Some of the substances that can cause irritant contact dermatitis include:

  • Acids
  • Perfumes
  • Soaps
  • Solvents

What is allergy contact dermatitis?

Allergy contact dermatitis is a reaction to an allergen. It only occurs in people who have become sensitized to a particular substance. You probably won’t get a rash from touching something for the first time. But your immune system could react to a second exposure and cause a rash.

Common agents that cause allergic contact dermatitis include:

  • Dyes
  • Fragrances
  • Metals such as nickel
  • Plants such as poison ivy and poison oak
  • Rubber materials such as latex

What does contact dermatitis look like?

Contact dermatitis that appears suddenly (acute) may cause your skin to look pink or red. It might also have itchy bumps or small blisters.

If the contact dermatitis goes untreated or develops with repeated exposure (chronic), your skin may become thick or discolored in patches. The skin may also have lesions (sores or damaged areas) nearby.

In both the acute and chronic types, the skin area is itchy. Lesions are in the pattern and shape of whatever caused your reaction.

How do I know what caused my contact dermatitis?

If you don’t know what caused your contact dermatitis, the Henry Ford Contact Dermatitis Clinic can help. We’ll test your skin for reactions to various skin irritants with an exam known as a patch test. Your doctor will need to refer you to our Patch Test Clinic for a patch test.

Your test will be on a Monday or a Tuesday -- our typical testing days. You should bring all the personal products that touch your skin to your first visit. Your first test will last 48 hours, and your second test will take place after seven days.

What are my treatment options for contact dermatitis?

Many cases of contact dermatitis clear up on their own in a matter of weeks without treatment. If the rash doesn’t go away, or if it goes away and comes back, your doctor may prescribe medication. Some of the medications we use to treat contact dermatitis include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Oral corticosteroids (pills)
  • Topical corticosteroids (creams or ointments)
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