Eczema types: Contact dermatitis tips for managing
If you have contact dermatitis, the right skin care and prevention strategies can help heal your skin and prevent another itchy, painful rash. Here are the tips that dermatologists give their patients who have contact dermatitis.
Avoid what’s causing your rash. To heal your skin and prevent another rash, you need to: 1) Know what’s causing your rash and 2) Avoid touching what causes it.
For example, if you have an allergy to nickel, you need to know what often contains nickel and how to avoid it. You’ll find five tips that can help you avoid nickel at, Nickel allergy: How to avoid exposure and reduce symptoms.
If you’re uncertain what’s causing your rash, a board-certified dermatologist can help. To find out how, see Contact dermatitis: Diagnosis and treatment.
Until you see a dermatologist, you may be able to get an idea of what’s causing your rash by going to, Itchy rash could be contact dermatitis.
Stop scratching. The rash can be itchy, but scratching tends to worsen the rash. Scratching can also lead to an infection.
Relieve the itch with cool compresses, anti-itch medication, or oatmeal baths. To make a cool compress, run cold water over a clean towel, then apply the cool, damp towel to the area for 10-15 minutes a few times daily.
Other ways to get relief are to apply an anti-itch medication that contains 1% hydrocortisone to your rash, slather calamine lotion on your itchy skin, or soak in a cool oatmeal bath. You can buy all these without a prescription.
Calamine lotion and oatmeal baths can also help dry oozing skin.
Test all skin care products, hair care products, and makeup before you apply them widely. This helps prevent a widespread skin reaction. Even fragrance-free, hypoallergenic, and natural products can cause a reaction if you have contact dermatitis.
How to test a product
Apply a tiny amount of the product to the skin on the underside of your arm. Make sure to place the product where it will stay dry.
Then leave the product on your skin for as long as you normally would, following these guidelines:
- A rinse-off product like a cleanser: Keep it on your skin for as long as the product’s instructions say. If your skin reacts while you have the product on your skin or within a few days, never use the product again. If the area where you applied, the product remains clear, it’s unlikely to cause a reaction.
- A product meant to stay on your skin for some time, like a moisturizer or makeup: Leave the product on your arm until one of the following happens:
Apply a fragrance-free moisturizer or barrier repair cream after washing. This helps seal in moisture, which your skin needs. Of course, you want to test this product before applying it widely. When you find a product that won’t cause a skin reaction, apply the moisturizer or barrier repair cream while your skin is still damp after washing.
To get the best results, it helps to apply your moisturizer (or barrier repair cream) throughout the day when your skin feels dry.
Wash new clothes before you wear them. Washing new clothes helps to remove chemical residues and dyes that could cause a reaction.
Remember two key facts about contact dermatitis. If you suddenly develop a new rash, you can miss a likely cause, unless you know the following:
- The rash may not be caused by what’s touching your skin when you first see the rash. Something that touched your skin hours or days ago may be the cause. A rash from an antibiotic ointment may show up 4 days later.
- You can develop an allergic reaction to a product that you’ve used for years. This can happen for one of two reasons. If the product has been reformulated, it can contain different ingredients. The second reason is that you’ve developed a new allergic reaction.
Get your skin care advice from your dermatologist. If you have raw, irritated skin or have a skin hypersensitivity, your skin needs special care. Dermatologists are the medical doctors who specialize in skin care. A dermatologist can tell you which products would be best for you and which ones to avoid.
How dermatologists help people who have contact dermatitis
Contact dermatitis can affect your life. A rash can come and go unexpectedly, making it difficult to do your job or enjoy life to the fullest. By teaming up with a dermatologist you can get treatment, often find out what causes your rash, and feel more comfortable.
If you have a rash that blisters, comes and goes, or causes discomfort, see a board-certified dermatologist.
American Academy of Dermatology
Carol R. “Are you a rash whisperer?” Dermatol World. 2019:29(1):44-9.
Mowad CM, Anderson B, et al. “Allergic contact dermatitis: Patient diagnosis and evaluation.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016;74:1029-40.
Mowad CM, Anderson B, et al. “Allergic contact dermatitis: Patient management and education.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016;74:1043-54.
Usatine RP and Riojas M. “Diagnosis and management of contact dermatitis.” Am Fam Physician. 2010 Aug 1;82(3):249-55.
Paula Ludmann, MS
Matthew Elias, MD, FAAD
Iltefat Hamzavi, MD, FAAD
Benjamin Stoff, MD, FAAD
Last updated: 12/14/20