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Contact Dermatitis
Contact Dermatitis

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a type of skin reaction that happens when the skin comes in direct contact with chemicals or physical substances. Different compounds found in your homes and workplaces can cause dermatitis when exposed to the skin.

Contact dermatitis occurs across different occupations.Its major triggers include hair products, jewellery, dyes in clothing, leather, rubber, glues, cement, raw food exposure, topical medications, sunscreens, cosmetics, fragrances and plants.

Some occupations are more exposed to chemicals or substances that result in sensitisation, causing contact dermatitis than others. Examples of these occupations are dental workers, healthcare workers, florists, hairdressers, and machinists.

Contact dermatitis is of two types:

  • Irritant contact dermatitis
  • Allergic contact dermatitis

From the stated above, Irritant contact dermatitis accounts for over 80% of all contact dermatitis. It occurs mostly on the hands and other skin surfaces where chronic exposure to a cleaning agent or chemical occurs.

On the other hand, allergic contact dermatitis involves a delayed skin reaction which develops about 12 to 72 hours after exposure to a metal or chemical in the environment.


Irritant contact dermatitis is very common to people in the cleaning industry because of frequent exposure to surfactants in detergents and water. Surfactants like Sodium Lauryl Sulphate contained in the detergent removes the natural protective greases of the outer skin,causing irritation.

The cumulative and progressive dryness of the skin, scaling and cracking causes typical irritant dermatitis. As ammonia from urineresidue in nappy causes dermatitis in babies, common triggers of irritant dermatitis in adults are Solvents, detergents and cutting oils that are used in factories and workshops.

Irritant contact dermatitis symptoms are;

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


Allergic Contact Derma develops when skin already sensitive to a substance or allergen have repeated contact with that substance. It occurs in skin that is hypersensitive to common metals, dyes, rubber products and cosmetics. Allergic contact dermatitisis common in adult females;some of them are allergic to substances like Nickel.

As soon as contact is made with any sensitivesubstance, the lesions demarcate instantly and develop over a period of time usually between 12 to 72 hours. The first symptom that occurs is redness, followed by itching and then crusted vesicles and blisters which becomes thickened skin with time.

Many allergens that cause contact dermatitis are chemicals which are often referred to as haptens;a delayed immune response is triggered when they arebound to a carrier protein.

Unlike irritant dermatitis that mainly affects the hands, allergic contact dermatitis affects different parts of the skin. For example, Nickel in jewellery affects earlobes, wrists and fingers, hair dyes affect the scalp, leather shoe dyes or rubber affect the feet while cosmetics affect the face and neck.

Allergic contact dermatitis symptoms are;

  • Sun sensitivity
  • Darkened, "leathery," and cracked skin
  • Reddening of skin
  • Intermittent dry, scaly patches of skin
  • Oozing blisters
  • Burning or itching that is usually intense without visible skin sores
  • Swelling in the eyes, face, and genital areas in some severe cases