Every once and a while your skin may break out into
a rash. You may or may not know what caused this to happen, and it
could be a minor irritation or turn into something much worse.
Doctors have a name for these topical rashes that can sometimes
appear out of the blue, contact dermatitis.
According to Dictionary.com, contact dermatitis is defined as
"inflammation of the skin caused by an allergic reaction to contact
with an animal, vegetable, or chemical substance." However, contact
dermatitis can be caused by an allergy or by damage to the
Contact dermatitis caused by an allergy
When your skin is exposed to a substance that it is allergic to,
your immune system will respond to that substance. The rash is your
body's immune system trying to fight off the allergen. It
typically takes being exposed to the substance multiple times
before your body will react. The first time you are exposed to a
potential allergen your body becomes sensitized, and it can take at
least two additional experiences with the allergen before your body
One example of this type of contact dermatitis is poison ivy
rash. When a person who is sensitized to poison ivy comes in
contact with the oily resin from the plant, called urushiol, the
body reacts causing a painful, itchy rash. Some people are
surprised to find themselves with a rash after they had thought
they could not get poison ivy. In this case, it just took enough
exposure to the plants before their body was sensitized to it and
began to react.
With allergic contact dermatitis, the rash is usually found at
the site where you came in contact with the substance you are
allergic to. It may take up to a few days for a rash to
appear and it will typically itch and possibly burn. A more severe
rash may blister or become a raised red rash.
Some typical causes of allergic contact dermatitis include:
- Fragrances found in soaps, lotions, perfumes and other
- Hair dyes, perms or chemical straighteners
- Poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac
- Nickel, commonly found in jewelry and belt buckles
- Chemicals used in tanning leather
- Latex rubber
- Some topical medications
- Citrus fruit, especially the peel
Contact dermatitis caused by skin damage
Sometimes your skin can break out into a rash even though it has
not been exposed to an allergen. Your immune system is not reacting
but a substance you have been in contact with has caused damage to
your skin. This is referred to as irritant contact dermatitis and
is more common with people who have eczema.
Irritant contact dermatitis usually appears immediately at the
exposure site where something is in contact with your skin.
The rash can be more painful than itchy, and may also blister or
become a raised red rash.
Talk to your doctor
It is always best to consult your doctor when you are not sure
what caused your contact dermatitis. It is especially important to
call a doctor when your rash is hot, red, severely burning, or very
painful as it can be a possible sign of infection. Your doctor will
advise whether an over-the-counter medicine or prescription is the
best course of action to take.