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Contact Dermatitis: Symptoms and Treatments You Should Know

Contact dermatitis is a skin disorder caused by exposure to an allergen or a particular substance. The skin becomes red, inflamed or sore. Unlike skin allergy, it is the skin's response to irritants. These irritants may include metal, jewellery, hair products, cosmetics, perfume, soaps and detergents, fabric softeners, or various chemicals. Substances such as cement and rubber gloves can also initiate contact dermatitis.

In some cases, long-term exposure to wet diapers can also cause contact dermatitis. Highly irritating chemicals can prompt a reaction in the skin even with the shortest contact. Understanding its symptoms and appropriate treatments is crucial for effective management and relief.

Types and Symptoms of Contact Dermatitis

There are two primary types of contact dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. Irritant contact dermatitis is triggered by exposure to irritants like chemicals, soaps, or solvents. Where as an allergic reaction to specific substances triggers allergic contact dermatitis. The symptoms can identify the type of contact dermatitis you are experiencing.

Symptoms of Irritant Contact Dermatitis Include:

  • Immediate redness and Inflammation upon exposure to irritants
  • Burning or stinging sensation on the skin
  • Itching on the affected area
  • Dry or cracked skin in the affected area
  • Blister formation

Symptoms of Allergic Contact Dermatitis Include:

  • Redness and Swelling that may extend beyond the immediate area of contact with the allergen
  • Severe Itching as compared to irritant contact dermatitis
  • Formation of blisters, oozing, and crusting
  • Symptoms that are chronic or recurrent in nature
  • The symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis typically develop after 24 to 48 hours of exposure to the allergen

Medications and Remedies for Contact Dermatitis

There is no cure for contact dermatitis. The medications and treatments for contact dermatitis can reduce the symptoms but not cure them completely. The most crucial action for the treatment of contact dermatitis is recognising the triggers and allergens and avoiding those. This may involve changing personal care products or using protective measures in occupational settings. Besides, washing the affected area with plenty of water is the most effective way to remove any lingering traces of the irritant on the skin.

The other options to manage contact dermatitis symptoms include:

Topical Steroids

Mild to moderate cases of contact dermatitis often respond well to over-the-counter or prescription topical steroids. These effectively reduce inflammation, redness, itching, and other associated symptoms. Topical steroids are available in various strengths. Your doctor will prescribe the strength of the topical steroid according to the severity of your skin condition.

Some Topical Steroids for Contact Dermatitis Include:

  • Hydrocortisone: It is available over-the-counter in lower strengths, it is suitable for mild cases.
  • Triamcinolone: It is available in various strengths and is prescribed for moderate to severe cases.
  • Fluocinonide: It is a potent topical steroid used for more severe and persistent cases.
  • Clobetasol: It is used in severe cases and usually for short-term use due to the risk of side effects.
  • Betamethasone: It is available in different formulations, including creams, ointments, and lotions.
  • Tacrolimus and Pimecrolimus: These are immunomodulating medications that relieve allergic contact dermatitis.

Explore these generic medicines online on Truemeds. Get the best substitutes suitable for your skin. Also, avail expert guidance from doctor on dermatological needs for your skin.

Oral Steroids

In severe cases of contact dermatitis, oral steroids such as prednisone and prednisolone are prescribed to address inflammation and promote healing. These medications are typically used in severe cases that do not respond adequately to over-the-counter treatments. These should be used only when prescribed.

Emollients and Moisturizers

Emollients and moisturisers help alleviate dryness, reduce itching, and create a protective barrier on the skin. The routine application of emollients and moisturisers, especially after bathing, is recommended for optimal results. It helps retain the normal texture of the skin. Medicated moisturisers and emollients are most effective in managing skin conditions including contact dermatitis. Try using Calamine lotion to get quick relief from itching. Use Vaseline petrolleum jelly and moisturising lotions such as Cetaphil to soothe the affected area.

Explore the wide range of dermatologists recommended skincare products on Truemeds to manage your contact dermatitis. Get affordable skincare creams, lotions, face wash, gels and much more to get relief from contact dermatitis symptoms.

Cold Compresses

Cold compress application to the affected area can relieve itching, reduce inflammation, and soothe the skin. It is particularly beneficial in cases of acute flare-ups. It should be applied for short durations and not directly on the skin to prevent frostbite.


Oral antihistamines such as hydroxyzine, cetirizine, and loratadine are recommended to control itching in contact dermatitis.

Oatmeal Bath

Oatmeal bath is an effective remedy for treating contact dermatitis. The soothing properties of oatmeal help alleviate itching, reduce inflammation, and relieve irritated skin. To prepare an oatmeal bath, grind the oatmeal and add it to a lukewarm bath. Soak in the bath for about 15-20 minutes, allowing the oatmeal to create a protective layer on the skin. This natural remedy is known for its skin-calming effects and is beneficial if you are experiencing discomfort due to contact dermatitis.

Alternatively you can use Aveeno soothing bath treatment that specifically contains colloidal oatmeal that can reduce itch and irritation during contact dermatitis.

Phototherapy or Light Therapy

Phototherapy is performed when the other treatment options are ineffective in managing contact dermatitis. It involves exposing the affected area to controlled amounts of ultraviolet (UV) light under medical supervision. It can help reduce inflammation and itching due to contact dermatitis.

Best Preventive Measures for Contact Dermatitis

Adhering to preventive measures significantly lowers the risk of contact dermatitis flare-ups. Consistent implementation of these precautions and minimising exposure to potential irritants can help prevent contact dermatitis. These preventive measures include:

  • Patch Testing: If you have a history of contact dermatitis, it is recommended to undergo patch testing before using any product to identify specific allergens and avoid them.
  • Protective Clothing: Wearing protective clothing and gloves when working with irritants or allergens can prevent skin exposure and reduce the risk of contact dermatitis.
  • Hygiene Practices: Practicing good hygiene, including thorough handwashing and proper skincare, can minimise the risk of skin irritation. 


Contact dermatitis often has typical symptoms that your doctor can recognise. The symptoms can vary with the type of contact dermatitis. The symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis are more chronic or recurrent than irritant contact dermatitis. Unlike irritant contact dermatitis, the symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis appear 24 to 48 hours after exposure to the allergen.

It can be confused with other skin diseases like psoriasis, but with awareness of its symptoms and appropriate treatments, you can effectively manage and reduce its appearance. Identifying triggers, practising preventive measures, and seeking timely medical advice are crucial for optimal skin health. If you experience contact dermatitis, which is not improving, it is best to consult a dermatologist or an allergist for accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment. 

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