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Eczema types: Contact dermatitis signs and symptoms

You can develop contact dermatitis on any part of your skin that touches something which either irritates your skin or causes an allergic reaction. Because we touch most things with our hands, contact dermatitis often develops here.

If you have an allergy to fragrance, which is common, you may develop contact dermatitis where you apply a personal care product. The face, neck, underarms, scalp, and tops of feet are also common places to develop contact dermatitis. However, contact dermatitis can appear anywhere on your skin.

When signs and symptoms appear, you may have:

  • Itchy skin (often intense)

  • Rash (skin discolored, swollen, and hot)

  • Excessively dry skin that may crack

  • Tender skin

  • Burning or stinging

  • Hives (round welts on the skin that itch intensely)

  • Fluid-filled blisters

  • Oozing blisters that leave crusts and scales

These pictures of contact dermatitis show you what this skin disease can look like.

Itch, burning sensation, or pain

Before the rash appears, you may feel an intense itch, burning sensation, or pain. These symptoms often continue after the rash appears.

Man scratching itchy armpit

Itchy rash

This man developed contact dermatitis after using a spice-scented deodorant. The itchy rash cleared soon after he stopped applying the deodorant.

Armpit rash caused by deodorant

Swelling and a rash

The product that causes contact dermatitis doesn’t have to touch your skin for long. This woman had an allergic reaction to shampoo, which only touched her eyelid when she rinsed it off in the shower. Because the skin on the eyelid is thinner than elsewhere, this is a common place for contact dermatitis to develop.

Rash around woman’s eye

Intensely itchy rash of bumps and fluid-filled blisters

Poison ivy caused the rash of itchy bumps and fluid-filled blisters shown here. Many people develop an allergic reaction on their skin when it touches poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac.

Poison ivy rash
When bumps and blisters appear, your skin may feel swollen and blistered or dry and bumpy.

Painful sores

This woman was working with fiberglass, which irritated her skin and caused the painful sores.

Rash caused by fiberglass

Sores leak fluid

If the sores break open, they can leak fluid. The sores shown here are due to severely irritated skin caused by handling fish.

Rash caused by handling fish

Rash appears after sunlight hits the skin

By seeing a dermatologist, this woman discovered her constantly itchy rash and swollen skin were caused by a product that contained oil of bergamot. When the oil on her skin reacted with sunlight, this rash appeared.

Rash triggered by sunlight

Rash comes and goes

If you only occasionally touch what’s causing contact dermatitis, the rash can come and go. Because an allergic reaction can take time to appear, it can take a bit of detective work to figure out what’s causing the rash. By seeing a dermatologist, this woman discovered that she has a nickel allergy. The necklace shown in this picture contains nickel, which is causing her rash.

Jewelry often contains nickel. This metal is also found in cell phones, laptops, and other tech devices.

Rash caused by necklace

Thickened, dry, cracked, and flaky skin

If you continue to touch what’s causing the contact dermatitis, your skin often thickens, becomes scaly, and develops deep cracks. This usually happens when someone needs to work with chemicals, such as hair dyes, cement, or solvents. The long-standing contact dermatitis shown here appears on the hand of a massage therapist who uses essential oils to treat clients.

Contact dermatitis caused by massage oil

Contact dermatitis can develop anywhere on your skin

While contact dermatitis often develops on the hands, it can appear anywhere on your skin, including feet, lips, or groin area. Sometimes, the cause never directly touches your skin. For example, shoes can cause an allergic reaction on feet covered by socks.

Other times, the skin next to something that causes an allergic reaction may not rash. You may develop the rash elsewhere. For example, some people develop an allergic reaction to chemicals used in nail polish or artificial nails. Instead of developing a rash on their hands or feet, some people get a rash on their eyelids.

The skin around the eye is thin. If you’re allergic to something on your fingers, such as an ingredient in a nail polish, briefly touching the skin around the eye could cause a rash.

Contact dermatitis caused by shoes

This man developed a serious allergic reaction to a resin in his shoes.

Contact dermatitis caused by shoes

The rash around this woman’s eye was caused by an allergic reaction to her artificial nails.

Contact dermatitis around eye

While rare, the rash on a person’s skin can also be caused by something inside their body. For example, some people develop an allergic reaction to a metal in an artificial hip or knee. A few patients have developed an allergic reaction to their pacemaker.

Find out if you have an increased risk of developing contact dermatitis by going to, Contact dermatitis: Causes.

Image 1: Getty Images

Images 2-10: Image used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides.

Image 11: Used with permission of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

  • J Am Acad Dermatol 2002;47:755-65.

Gold M, Nath N, et al. “Frequency of contact allergy to implanted cardiac devices.” JAMA Dermatol. 2019 Jun 1;155(6):749-52.

Guin JD, “Eyelid dermatitis: Experience in 203 cases.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2002;47:755-65.

Wilkinson SM, “Occupational dermatoses.” In: Bolognia JL, et al. Dermatology. (fourth edition). Mosby Elsevier, China, 2018: 274-85.

Written by:
Paula Ludmann, MS

Reviewed by: Matthew Elias, MD, FAAD
Iltefat Hamzavi, MD, FAAD
Benjamin Stoff, MD, FAAD

Last updated: 12/14/20