Contact Dermatitis: Allergic Vs. Irritant

Contact dermatitis refers to a skin irritation or rash that develops as a result of contact with a certain physical substance or chemical. There are two types of contact dermatitis: allergic and irritant. In both cases, you should follow up with a dermatologist to not only relieve your rash symptoms but to also learn how you can avoid a skin reaction in the future.

Do you know the difference between allergic and irritant contact dermatitis? Allergic contact dermatitis is caused when you come in direct contact with an allergen such as jewelry (nickel), fragrances, dyes, natural rubbers or plants (poison ivy). This typically presents as a delayed reaction on the skin, or about 12 to 72 hours after coming in contact with the substance. Remember that it is possible for your skin to develop a sensitivity or allergic reaction to something that has been well tolerated in the past. For example, a child can experience a reaction to nickel after wearing earrings for the first time or an adult may suddenly develop a nickel allergy after years of exposure.

Irritant contact dermatitis, on the other hand, involves a triggered skin reaction caused by repeated exposure to substances like harsh soaps or strong chemical solvents over a longer period of time. There are certain occupations that are more at risk, including dental care workers, florists, hairdressers, etc. Sufferers of irritant contact dermatitis commonly have skin rashes due to detergents, cleaners, waxes and other chemical sources. These irritants gradually weaken the oily or more protective layer of the skin and cause an uncomfortable reaction.

Symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis can be very similar. However, Cleveland Clinic provides the following commonalities and distinctions between the two:

Allergic contact dermatitis symptoms include:

  • Reddening of skin (either in patches or all over the body)
  • Intermittent dry, scaly patches of skin
  • Blisters that ooze
  • Burning or itching that is usually intense without visible skin sores (lesions)
  • Swelling in the eyes, face, and genital areas (severe cases)
  • Hives
  • Sun sensitivity
  • Darkened, “leathery,” and cracked skin

Irritant contact dermatitis symptoms include:

  • Mild swelling of skin
  • Stiff, tight feeling skin
  • Dry, cracking skin
  • Blisters
  • Painful ulcers on the skin

If you are suffering from a skin rash of unknown origin, please schedule an appointment at Olansky Dermatology Associates. We specialize in diagnosing and treating skin rashes for patients of all ages.

Posted on behalf of Olansky Dermatology & Aesthetics