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Identifying Contact Dermatitis, Causes and Cures

Updated on September 25, 2017
Blond Logic profile image

Living on a farm in Brazil, I've gained local in-depth knowledge of food, plants, and traditions, which I share through my articles.

How do you Know if it is Contact Dermatitis?

Determining if you have contact dermatitis isn't always easy. Sometimes you need to eliminate other potential causes. It took me quite a while to pinpoint the root cause of my skin problem. Here in the tropics, there are other things that can cause skin irritations such as insects, the sun and the salt in the air. It was only after eliminating these and looking for the signs of contact dermatitis that I began to know it when I saw it.

As the name implies, contact dermatitis means you have touched something, possibly without even being aware until later when an irritation begins. It can be plants, animals, chemicals or even metals such as nickel.

What Contact Dermatitis Looks Like

contact dermatitis
contact dermatitis | Source

Contact Dermatitis

As you can see from the photo, the two lines are where an irritant has come into contact with the skin. Following that, the surrounding area can become inflamed as well.

Welts and blisters can form around the area making it itch.

Often, without thinking about it, we scratch the affected area causing more irritation.

Poison oak, poison ivy and other plants can cause a reaction when touched. Often other plants that affect one person might not affect another.

With dermatitis, your skin will be sensitive to the sun. It is best to keep it covered if you are going to be outside. Applying sun block may aggravate the condition. Avoid the sun but if that isn't possible wear clothing that will cover.

Gauntlet gardening gloves

Magid TE195T-M Terra Collection Professional Rose Gardening Gloves - Womens Medium
Magid TE195T-M Terra Collection Professional Rose Gardening Gloves - Womens Medium

I can't begin to imagine how much pain these gloves have saved me from. I live on a farm and because we have year round sun, the plants grow like crazy. We are continually chopping, hacking, and pulling various weeds. Some would call it gardening, I call it jungle management.

Before I lived here I was reluctant to wear gloves, now I always wear them and would never think of subjecting my hands and forearms to the potential problems which could occur.


Potential Irritants in the Garden

Here in the tropics, most people wear flip flops year round. I try to remember to wear either running shoes or work boots if I am going to be working in the garden. It is too easy to come into contact with something that may cause an irritation.This could be a plant, insect or chemical.

The use of gloves and boots is a good habit to get into because the irritation it can save is immense. The gauntlet style gloves are a good option because they allow you to reach right into thick undergrowth without the risk of getting spiked, bitten, or stung.

Soaps and Detergents may Cause Dermatitis

I have found the laundry detergent here in Brazil is very strong. There are brands I recognize such as OMO, Ariel, or Ace (Tide in the USA). My skin has never had a problem before with any of these but here, they do. I tend to get a rash where my waistband sits, or where my clothes are close fitting such as the armholes and around the neck.

I now wash my clothes in a gentle coconut based laundry detergent designed for babies or delicate clothes. I also put the washing machine through an extra rinse cycle. This seems to help rinse any extra residue away. I tend not to use a fabric softener because that leaves more chemicals on the clothes and may cause another reaction.

If you find detergents too strong, try ones designed for babies. Or use coconut soap and wash by hand. Another option is boiling the clothes clean.

Coconut Laundry Soap
Coconut Laundry Soap

Because of the potential irritation which can be caused by soap powders I now only use coconut soap. It is considered a neutral PH and is used here as a more gentle option.

I have known people who visit Brazil and take loads of various coconut soaps back home with them.


Causes of Skin Irritation

Sometimes it is difficult to know what has caused the irritation. It is necessary to try and pin it down so that you can stop using a product if that is what is causing the reaction. For example changing your soap or laundry detergent can trigger a skin problem.

If you have been doing household cleaning without wearing gloves, this also could have caused a rash or skin complaint from coming into contact with the cleaning product.

It is important to discontinue the use of anything you think may have caused the reaction. Let the skin calm down before trying something different.

How to Treat Contact Dermatitis at Home

It is possible to alleviate many of the effects if you come into contact with something that may be an irritant.

The first thing to remember is don't scratch

Quickly wash the area with a gentle soap and cool water.

Often a dilute solution of lemon juice or vinegar will ease the pain.

Applying calamine lotion can calm the area as well.

Taking an antihistamine can help relieve the itching. This is important because if scratched, this can lead to an infection.

Here in the tropics, it is necessary to aggressively treat wounds and any open sores as bacteria thrives in a warm climate.

© 2011 Mary Wickison

I hope you've found this page helpful.

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    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 4 years ago from Brazil

      Hello Amy,

      I am pleased you found it useful.

      Sometimes a little more thought on prevention can keep us from suffering the misery of contact dermatitis.

      Thank you for your advice regarding Cortisone.

    • Amy Becherer profile image

      Amy Becherer 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Very informative. It is important to be able to differentiate skin diseases as treatment is dependent on the cause. Cortisone, for example, will worsen a bacterial infection, but be very beneficial for an allergic reaction. Sometimes only a dermatologist can distinguish in the early stages. Great topic that is applicable for everyone!