Have you ever gotten itchy, red skin right after using a shaving or grooming product? You may have contact dermatitis. Then again…maybe not. Here is what contact dermatitis is, what the symptoms are, and how to treat (or prevent) it.
Types of Contact Dermatitis
There are two types of contact dermatitis–allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis. The causes and symptoms of the two are nearly the same, the difference being the subtle distinction between touching something someone is allergic to and something someone is sensitive to (much more common). Symptoms include:
- Skin that is warm or hot to the touch
- Bumps or blisters that may ooze fluid
- Cracking or peeling of the skin
Symptoms can occur up to 10 days of the first time a person comes in contact with an irritant or allergen they are sensitive to. The next time that person touches that irritant or allergen they may have symptoms much more quickly (within one or two days). The longer the skin touches the irritant, the more severe the reaction might be. Generally, allergic reactions tend to be more severe and last longer than irritant reactions given the same exposure level.
What causes contact dermatitis?
Irritants and allergens that can cause contact dermatitis include:
- Fragrances and perfumes added to products, such as soaps, fabric softeners, deodorants, body creams, cosmetics, tissues and toilet paper
- Soaps and cleaning products
- Dye used in clothing, fur and leather products
- Hair coloring
- Latex, which is used in things such as plastic gloves, waistbands, bras, condoms, toys and balloons
- Medicines, especially antibiotic creams with neomycin
- Nickel found in many metal products, such as jewelry, zippers, buttons, and kitchen utensils (Even chrome-plated objects and 14K and 18K gold contain nickel that can irritate the skin if the gold gets moist.)
- Nail care products, including nail polish, nail hardeners and artificial nails, which can cause a rash when they are wet and touch the skin
- Poison ivy and other plants
Perfumes and fragrances are among the most common causes of contact allergies in adults. Even “unscented” products can cause contact dermatitis because they may contain a fragrance designed to block unwanted scents. Research has shown that natural oils can also cause allergic reactions. If you’re prone to fragrance allergies, look for fragrance-free (vs. “unscented”) products.
Reactions may also be caused by preservatives used in grooming products. Skin irritation is a common problem at the site of contact with cosmetics and may be experienced by anyone, but allergic reactions such as redness, swelling, and hives tend to occur in people who are allergic to specific ingredients, like formaldehyde, parabens, and thimerosal.
Even topical antibiotics and anesthetics used to provide pain relief, such as antibiotic creams and ointments are useful in treating cuts, can be an a problem for those with an allergy to neomycin, an ingredient found in these products. However these medicines are drying to the skin and usually create more of an irritant reaction rather than an allergic reaction. People with a sensitivity to neomycin experience inflamed rashes at the point of contact. But determining if it is a sensitivity or an allergy will require skin patch test by a specialist to confirm it.
Products including sunscreens, antibiotics applied to the skin, shaving lotions, some perfumes and oil from the skin of a lime could have an unwanted effect: some chemicals that are harmless by themselves are converted into allergens when they are exposed to sunlight (specifically, ultraviolet light). This type of reaction is called a photocontact allergy, or photoallergic reaction. While certain substances used in sunscreens can cause direct allergic reactions in some people, they cause the reaction in others only when they go out in the sun. Common sunscreen ingredients that can cause allergic reactions include PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid), salicylates, oxybenzone, benzophenones, and cyclohexanol.
How to Treat Contact Dermatitis
WebMD has perhaps the most common sense advice on treating contact dermatitis:
- If you know what caused the rash, don’t use it again.
- Wash your skin with mild soap and cool water right away, if you can. You may get rid of all or most of the problem substance. That could help cut back on symptoms.
- When the rash covers only a small area, a hydrocortisone cream may be all you need for relief.
- For blisters, apply a cold moist compress for 30 minutes, three times a day.
- If your skin is damaged, put moisturizers on it several times a day to help restore the protective layer.
- Oral antihistamines can help relieve itching. Don’t use an antihistamine lotion unless your doctor suggests it, because it could cause skin irritation or an allergic reaction, too.
Some other advice includes:
- Soak a washcloth briefly in cool water mixed with a couple of tablespoons of baking soda. Wring out the cloth and then place it on the rash.
- Herbal creams or lotions that contain eucalyptus, camphor, calendula and rosemary