The Allergy Kit

Allergic Contact Dermatitis


Understand contact dermatitis, convenient allergen chart shows the most common substances that cause this skin condition and the parts of your body commonly affected, tips, treatment.

Allergic contact dermatitis is a skin allergy condition that occurs when external substances touch the skin. Symptoms usually occur within 30 minutes after exposure to an allergen. After contact with this normally harmless substance, inflammation occurs and symptoms such as redness, blisters, and scaling develop. The hands are involved in about 2/3 of contact dermatitis cases, since people come in contact with irritating substances at their jobs.

Unlike eczema, allergic contact dermatitis is a condition that affects people in their later stages of life, most likely because the condition does not occur upon first exposure to a substance. It usually takes numerous exposures for this skin condition to develop. Take nickel as an example. Only about two percent of girls under the age of ten are allergic to nickel. Compare that figure to women 50+, where the number of those affected rises to about fourteen percent.

The following table is designed to help you detect the most likely sources of this condition by isolating the parts of the body where your skin allergy symptoms appear:


Possible Allergens in Allergic Contact Dermatitis
Body Area Suspected Substance Possible Allergen
Scalp hair dye P-phenylenediamine, phenol
Scalp Topical Medicine ethylenediamine dihydrochloride, lanolin alcohols
Scalp shampoo formaldehyde, phenol
Scalp hair spray phenol
Face cosmetics formaldehyde, diazolidinyl urea, Quaternium-15, benzyl alcohol, Glycerine, phenol
Face topical medicines Ethylenediamine dihydrochloride, lanolin alcohols
Face shaving cream glycerine
Face after shave phenol
Lips lipstick Carnauba wax, lanolin
Lips toothpaste Cinnamic aldehyde, fluoride, glycerine
Hands jewelry nickel
Hands rubber gloves mercaptobenzothiazole, latex
Hands metals Chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, nickel, mercury
Hands lotions glycerine, phenol
Ears Earrings nickel
Ears earplugs nickel
Ears eyeglasses nickel
Body deodorant phenol
Body soap formaldehyde, glycerine
Body wrinkle-resistant clothes formaldehyde
Body clothing P-phenylenediamine, phenol
Body dyes chromium
Body elastic in clothes latex
Body medicines Ethylenediamine dihydrochloride, lanolin alcohols
Body perfumes Cinnamic alcohol, cinnamic aldehyde, benzyl alcohol, ethanol, phenol, glycerine
Genital Area contraceptive creams formaldehyde, nonoxynol
Genital Area condoms latex
Feet shoes Colophony, (soles) latex
Feet leather Chromate, glycerine
Feet powders phenol
Feet medicines Ethylenediamine dihydrochloride, lanolin alcohols

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what you can do about dermatitis

A first step in treating contact dermatitis is avoiding the substance causing your reaction so your skin can heal and the source allergen can be identified. Some measures to take for relief are as follows:

• Apply cool, damp compresses to areas of your skin that itch. Do not scratch them

• Thoroughly wash affected areas with lots of water (not hot water) to remove any trace of the irritant that may remain on the skin

• Use water that is tepid, not hot. Decrease the number of showers and baths you take

• Avoid soaps that can irritate your skin

• If your irritated areas become dry or chapped, use a low alcohol emollient such as Vaseline

• Refrain from using alcohol or medicinal lotions on your affected areas


When treating this skin condition, doctors are likely to prescribe medicated creams and lotions. While these medicines can be very effective, they can also be the cause of further problems, since patients can have allergic reactions to ingredients in the medications.

Topical steroid cream or ointment - Hydrocortisone is a steroid medication available in topical and oral forms. The topical form helps to reduce the itching and swelling when skin allergy is limited to a small area.

Oral steroids or steroid injections -These drugs include prednisone, methylprednisolone, betamethasone, dexamethasone, triamcinolone and hydrocortisone.

Antihistamines - used to relieve the itching associated with this condition. Sedative antihistamines such as diphenhydramine and hydroxyzine can be taken at night to help patients sleep.

Oral antibiotics - For secondary infection.

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by Bob Fioravante, M.S.


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