What Is Contact Dermatitis & The Symptoms?

Article Read Duration 5 min read

Contact dermatitis is a common skin concern that presents with symptoms such as itchy-prone skin, redness and flaking, just to name a few. Contact dermatitis is also known as allergic dermatitis and occurs when your skin comes into contact with certain substances or chemicals, causing an uncomfortable reaction.


Many people with skin prone to allergy experience contact dermatitis without realising the causes behind their symptoms, so it’s important to understand the basics about this condition to help avoid triggers.


Read on for a detailed guide to everything you need to know about contact dermatitis, covering symptoms, causes and tips on management. We’ll also recommend some allergy tested, minimalist skincare formulas from our Toleriane range to help avoid future skin reactions.

What is contact dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis happens when skin develops uncomfortable symptoms such as a rash, inflammation or itching after or during contact with a certain substance. Contact dermatitis can develop at any time and is often triggered by substances you have been exposed to in the past.

What are the symptoms of contact dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis symptoms can be mild or intense, depending on the severity of the reaction. Common symptoms include very dry or flaky skin, bumps, tenderness, swelling, tightness, stiffness and hives. You may also experience a burning feeling or itch-prone skin that can be very uncomfortable.


These symptoms will happen wherever your skin has been in contact with an allergen or irritant. The most common areas where contact dermatitis is seen include the hands and face. Despite these undesirable symptoms, contact dermatitis is usually not dangerous. However, always consult a physician if you have extreme symptoms such as blisters, sores or ulcerations.

What causes contact dermatitis?

There are countless substances or chemicals that can cause contact dermatitis, however some are much more common than others. The main categories of causes are plants like poison ivy, jewellery made with nickel or gold, harsh cleaning products, cosmetics, skincare and preservatives. Many people also experience contact dermatitis from everyday things like latex gloves, detergents, fertiliser, or even regular hand soap.


Contact dermatitis from hand soap usually happens after prolonged or frequent exposure, meaning it’s more commonly experienced by those in certain occupations like healthcare workers, bartenders and hairdressers. In these occupations, frequent exposure to soap and water on the hands can lead to a weakened skin barrier, which can cause skin prone to irritation and contact dermatitis.


How long does contact dermatitis last?

The duration of contact dermatitis symptoms varies from person to person, but the reaction will begin to wane when the allergen or irritant is no longer in contact with the skin. As a guide, you can typically expect symptoms to resolve within between two and four weeks after exposure is ceased. If you’re concerned, consult a medical professional.

How to manage contact dermatitis

When it comes to how to help contact dermatitis, fortunately there are simple steps you can take to help manage this condition.

You might not be certain what might be causing the reaction, so the first step is to remove anything that might be an allergen or irritant from contact with your skin. While it may be difficult, avoiding scratching is critical to avoid exacerbating contact dermatitis. Scratching also increases the risk on an infection requiring antibiotics.

If you’re experiencing contact dermatitis on the face or anywhere else you use skincare products, it’s useful to switch out your products for new ones that are fragrance free, paraben free and silicone free. Keeping your skin clean and moisturised will help counteract dryness, but it’s crucial to use products with minimalist formulas to avoid the risk of triggering contact dermatitis. We recommend the below products from our Toleriane range, all of which are tested for sensitive, allergy prone skin.


Toleriane Dermo Cleanser

Our Toleriane Dermo Cleanser contains La Roche-Posay Thermal Water to comfort the skin, within a formula that cleanses thoroughly without a need for friction. Read our Complete Guide to Cleansing Sensitive Skin to learn more.


Toleriane Dermallergo Serum

Our Toleriane Dermallergo Serum is tested on sensitive skin and designed to support the skin barrier. This serum is free from harsh ingredients, making it well suited for skin prone to contact dermatitis.


Toleriane Ultra Eye Contour Sensitive Cream

Our Toleriane Ultra Eye Contour Sensitive Cream is formulated with comforting Neurosensine. Unlike many eye creams, this formula is fragrance free.


Toleriane Ultra Light Sensitive Moisturiser

Our Toleriane Ultra Light Sensitive Moisturiser is designed to hydrate and comfort sensitive skin. Moisturiser can form a useful barrier between irritation prone skin and environmental aggressors, so finding one with a minimalistic formula is valuable.

How to prevent contact dermatitis

In terms of how to avoid contact dermatitis, being vigilant about potential triggers is key. Which substances do or don’t cause a reaction will depend on the individual, so the best thing you can do is try to avoid potential irritants in your everyday life. Skincare products and cosmetics in particular often contain fragrances or preservatives that can trigger contact dermatitis, so looking for products with minimalist formulas is key to prevention.

What is the difference between eczema and contact dermatitis?

If you’re experiencing symptoms like redness, itch-prone skin and flaking, it may be hard to know whether you’re experiencing contact dermatitis or eczema-prone skin. Unlike contact dermatitis which subsides when exposure to the particular substance stops, eczema is a chronic condition that often starts at a young age. This condition is also more common on creased areas of the skin like the elbows and knees. As with any persistent skin issue, if you are unsure about your symptoms or require further clarification, we recommend seeking advice from your doctor or dermatologist.

Now that you’re fully educated on how to manage contact dermatitis, read our article Three Things you Need to Know About Niacinamide to learn why this ingredient is the best friend of sensitive and allergy-prone skin.