Contact dermatitis is a condition that occurs when the body’s immune system reacts to a substance that comes in contact with the skin.

The types of contact dermatitis

1. Allergic contact dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis can occur when your skin comes in contact with a substance causing a skin reaction. Common substances such as nickel, rubber, and perfumes or preservatives used in some creams and cosmetics.

People with a tendency for asthma, eczema and hay fever can develop irritant contact dermatitis more easily than others. Sometimes substances such as proteins in fruit and vegetables can cause an immediate allergic reaction leading to itchy skin swellings known as hives, which can aggravate your dermatitis. (1)

2. Irritant Contact Dermatitis

Occurs from coming into contact with a substance (e.g detergents, cleaning products, chemicals handled at work) without skin protection. The most important factor in causing this type of contact dermatitis is the amount of irritants you are exposed to. It’s particularly common in people who do a lot of wet work, for example, nurses, hairdressers, and people working in catering. The only real solution is to avoid the source of the problem.

Four things that trigger contact dermatitis

1. Nickel

Nickel is one of the major triggers of contact dermatitis. Unfortunately, it’s found in a variety of products such as earrings, zippers, buttons and other types of jewellery. Many chrome-plated or stainless-steel objects can contain enough nickel to produce a reaction. During the summer, items containing nickel can cause an itchy sensation within twenty minutes of touching perspiring skin. A rash may appear within a day or two which can be confusing when trying to isolate the trigger.

2. Latex

Latex (rubber) products often cause allergic contact dermatitis (ACD). This common in people who wear tight-fitting rubber gloves, such as medical workers and hairdressers etc. Rubber gloves may also cause dermatitis on the skin of the hand under the glove.

Of course, avoiding the allergen altogether is the best strategy for combating the discomfort of a reaction, but if you have to wear protective gloves, opt for vinyl ones. If you have no choice but to wear latex gloves, ensure that they are non-powdered and wear cotton gloves underneath.

3. Hair Dyes

There has been a lot of controversy in recent years over permanent hair dyes and the chemicals they contain. One of the key ingredients is paraphenylenediamine (PPDA), which is currently found in two-thirds of hair colourants, and has to be mixed with an oxidising agent, such as peroxide, before application.

Research published in the British Medical Journal in 2007 warns that the chemical can lead to dermatitis on the face and in severe cases can even cause facial swelling.

If you are not sure about your reaction, always follow the package instructions and test an area of skin before you use the dye for the first time.

4. Chromates

Compounds containing chromium, called chromates, are a common cause of allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) in construction workers and others who have constant contact with cement, leather, paints and anti-rust compounds.

What can I do now, and in the future?

There’s a lot you can do the relieve symptoms if your dermatitis gets worse. If you can’t avoid exposure to a particular substance, then you should consider wearing protective clothing or using barrier creams. The more you reduce your contact with irritants, then your irritant contact dermatitis will improve or clear. Using a rich antibacterial hand cream infused with Mānuka oil that’s excellent for healing open wounds, creating an effective skin barrier helping to reduce inflammation and soothe irritated contact dermatitis skin. Soaking your hands in warm water with 1-3 drops of Mānuka oil daily will also help to assist in repairing your hands.

Of course, with any new cream, we recommend that you test an area of skin first (on an arm or a leg) and leave for 24 hours to check that there will be no unknown reactions to any ingredient. You can read how to do a patch test here.

Remember your doctor or health provider will be able to assist with assessing and treating your symptoms.