Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a form of eczema that occurs when your skin is irritated or sensitized by substances ranging from cleaners, cosmetics, rubber, and jewelry to poison ivy.

At the Mount Sinai Health System, home to the Center for Excellence in Eczema, our highly skilled dermatologists and physician-scientists are highly experienced in specialized diagnostics—including patch testing to diagnose and prevent allergic contact dermatitis—and treat even the most challenging cases.

Causes of Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is not hereditary. Instead, it is commonly linked to certain professions or activities that involve regular use of chemicals, from custodians to dentists, nurses, and hair stylists.

There are two kinds of contact dermatitis:

Irritant contact dermatitis: This common form of contact dermatitis occurs when the skin is harmed by a range of irritants. These include detergents, solvents, soaps, and cleaning solutions.

Allergic contact dermatitis: This condition involves a delayed reaction occurring after exposure to an allergen. It is often caused by poison ivy, a strong allergen, but also many other substances, such as fragrances, nickel, hair dye, and preservatives in topical medications, such as topical antibiotics. Following contact with irritants and allergens, the body undergoes a strong inflammatory reaction that manifests as an itchy red eruption.

Symptoms of Contact Dermatitis

The skin inflammation and irritation of contact dermatitis can cause the following symptoms, which could become severe enough to interfere with daily life: 

  • Red, scaly rash
  • Itching
  • Blistering
  • Burning sensations

Treatments for Contact Dermatitis

Mount Sinai’s Center for Excellence in Eczema provides expertise in treating contact dermatitis. In the case of an outbreak, we may prescribe topical steroids, or—for more widespread rashes—we may prescribe a short course of medications that affect your entire body and light treatment.

In order to prevent future flare-ups, we must identify what is triggering your contact dermatitis. While the causes of irritant contact dermatitis can be easy to pinpoint because symptoms appear immediately, the causes of allergic contact dermatitis require testing.

Mount Sinai’s eczema specialists are skilled in state-of-the-art allergic contact dermatitis patch testing, which is an in-office procedure that identifies the trigger of this type of dermatitis.