What is dermatitis?

Dermatitis is a skin condition caused by contact with something that irritates the skin or causes an allergic reaction. It usually occurs where the irritant touches the skin, but not always.

What does it look like?

If you look at pictures of skin that has dermatitis, you could see one or all of these signs:

  • Redness
  • Scaling/flaking
  • Blistering
  • Weeping
  • Cracking
  • Swelling

What does it feel like?

Someone who has dermatitis may experience symptoms of itching and pain. The signs and symptoms of this condition can be so bad that the sufferer is unable to carry on at work. We have provided some case studies to give you the chance to see and hear real-life examples of dermatitis and how they were managed.

What causes irritant contact dermatitis?

It can occur quickly after contact with a strong irritant, or over a longer period from repeated contact with weaker irritants. Irritants can be chemical, biological, mechanical or physical. Repeated and prolonged contact with water (eg more than 20 hand washes or having wet hands for more than 2 hours per shift) can also cause irritant dermatitis.

What causes allergic contact dermatitis?

This can occur when the sufferer develops an allergy to a substance. Once someone is 'sensitised', it is likely to be permanent and any skin contact with that substance will cause allergic contact dermatitis. Often skin sensitisers are also irritants.

These are some of the more common causes of irritant and allergic contact dermatitis:

Irritant contact dermatitis

  • Wet work
  • Soaps, shampoos and detergents
  • Solvents
  • Some food (eg onions)
  • Oils and greases
  • Dusts
  • Acids and alkalis
  • Wet cement

Allergic contact dermatitis

  • Some hair dyes
  • UV cured printing inks
  • Adhesives
  • Nickel
  • Some plants (eg chrysanthemums)
  • Colophony
  • Certain wood dusts

Is this page useful?

Updated 2021-05-04