With the gift giving season upon us, we at Kallgren dermatology in Boulder will most likely see an influx of contact dermatitis, and so it seems appropriate that we should cover that for our readers.

A common scenario is the following:

You wake up in the middle of the night with an insatiable urge to scratch yourself. In order to see better, you turn on the light and expect to see a spider bite, but instead, you find that your skin is red and irritated, with raised patches that itch like the dickens. Your next step may be to grab your phone to head to the internet and search your symptoms. One term you will likely come across is Dermatitis.

Two Types of Dermatitis

Dermatitis, simply stated, means inflammation of the skin, and there are many types of dermatitis. If you don’t have a history of eczema but are experiencing an isolated incident of itchy skin rash, there is a very good chance it is contact dermatitis. There are two subtypes of contact dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, and irritant dermatitis. It is important to know what types there are so that you can take the best, most effective steps to completely remove the cause of your skin reaction and treat your skin.

Allergic Contact Dermatitis

As the name indicates, something has touched your skin, and your body has produced histamines to counter the substance. These histamines produce red, raised, and itchy skin. For example, this is the reaction you see when your skin is exposed to poison ivy. Other sources of this type of skin irritation are fragrances (such as the ones in that fancy bubble bath Santa popped in your stocking), plants and flowers (such as the poinsettia you were sitting next to all night), and formaldehyde that is often used in the production of clothing, including that fuzzy bathrobe from granda that you immediately wrapped yourself in. Even something as normal as a Christmas tree could cause allergic dermatitis if the tree was treated with something to which you are allergic.

Treating Allergic Contact Dermatitis

Stop the Itch!

The first thing you’ll want to do is to reduce the swelling and itching.

  • Rinse off the irritated skin. Take a cool shower with no soap, or with a mild soap that you’ve used in the past.
  • Take an oral antihistamine or apply topical allergy creams, such as topical Benadryl or hydrocortisone.
  • You can also dab the area with lemon juice or vinegar, which can counteract the effects of allergic dermatitis.
  • Cold compresses can be used on hives to help soothe them.

Find The Source:

You need to find the source of the allergic reaction and get rid of it.

If you can easily figure out what the source is, you’ve got it easy. For instance, if you are luxuriating in a bubble bath and start to itch and stand up to find that the parts of your body that were in the water are covered with itchy red patches, you’ve got your culprit.
Other suspects could include new clothes, new laundry detergent (and any item washed in it), body lotions, or other personal products. A common ingredient that many people are allergic to is sodium lauryl sulfate, found in detergents and even toothpaste. Check the ingredients of products you’ve used for this ingredient.
Think about everything new in your environment and where you’ve been. Sometimes it can take up to 72 hours for symptoms to appear so mentally retracing your steps can help you figure out the source of your allergy so that you can avoid it in the future.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If the skin irritation covers a large percentage of your body, or the reaction is severe, it is a good idea to seek medical attention since a quick injection of a corticosteroid can reduce symptoms quickly.
If you have any trouble breathing, seek medical attention immediately.

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Irritant Contact Dermatitis

Three-quarters of the instances of contact dermatitis are irritant dermatitis.

Find the Source

  • Common sources of irritant contact dermatitis are benzalkonium chloride, a type of biosurfactant which can be found in some industrial cleansers.
  • Some people have reactions to the skin of acorn or butternut squashes or summer flowers such as daisies and buttercups.
  • One factor that promotes this type of dermatitis is over-washing of hands. When the lipid-containing protective layer of the skin is removed from handwashing, irritants have an open the door to cause red, itchy skin.
  • Licking your lips and causing a chapped area around the mouth is another form of irritant contact dermatitis.
  • Other known irritants are fiberglass insulation, bleach, and itchy clothes.

Treating Irritant Contact Dermatitis

Stop the Itch!

  • Take a cool shower or rinse the area. Do not scrub or use a pumice stone.
  • Apply a moisturizer that contains Ceramides, such as CeraVe. This helps restore the lipids that create a barrier to irritants.
  • Avoid the irritant or use better barriers, such as long sleeves when installing insulation, or a shirt under that itchy sweater from your aunt.
  • Try using cold compresses and topical hydrocortisone cream for a few days.

When to Seek Medical Treatment

If you’ve removed the irritant, and creams and resting the skin doesn’t seem to be helping at all, you can seek medical attention.
We hope you have a contact dermatitis-free holiday season, but if you run into something that causes you to have an allergic reaction and you need a dermatologist in Boulder, call Kallgren Dermatology Clinic for an appointment.