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Contact Dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis

Although emollients and topical steroids are an important part of treatment, irritant contact dermatitis is preventable. Most people are able to return to their work after treatment and rehabilitation. Education about prevention is important to stop the condition reoccurring.

Protective clothing, barrier creams and after work emollients should all be encouraged as preventative measures.

Practical Tips:


Hand Washing

Use lukewarm water with a soap substitute to clean your hands. Always rinse your hands thoroughly and when drying them take special care between the fingers where the skin is prone to dryness and cracking.

Washing Up

When washing up use plastic gloves with a pair of cotton liners. Try not to wear any gloves for more than 20 minutes at a time as they can cause the skin to sweat and aggravate the eczema.

Detergents and cleaning agents

Try to avoid direct contact if possible. Avoid perfumed fabric conditioners if there is any suspicion that you are allergic to perfume. Wear plastic gloves with cotton liners when hand washing clothes.

Solvents and stain removers

White spirit, turpentine and thinners can all cause irritant contact dermatitis. Should any of these substances come into contact with skin, wash hands in lukewarm water with a soap substitute and apply generous amounts of emollient (non-cosmetic) moisturiser after washing.

It is important to remember that the resistance of the skin to irritants is lowered for at least four or five months after the eczema appears to have completely recovered. Therefore, it is important to continue with the practical tips above and to use emollient regularly.

Allergic Contact Dermatitis

A non-sensitising substitute can be used in the place of an existing allergen, although this is not always possible. Relocation, away from the allergen within a workplace, may be an option, but is often difficult.

Protective clothing and training in allergen avoidance are often useful preventative measures as is good personal hygiene and the use of suitable gloves. That said, certain glove material may not be protective enough or can be a cause of allergic contact dermatitis in itself. The correct gloves are therefore essential.

Barrier cream for allergic contact dermatitis is of little use. Emollient creams and emollient soap substitutes can help manage the condition, as can topical steroids and antibiotics if the eczema becomes infected.

Can nickel allergy be treated?

There aren’t any medicines you can take to stop you being allergic to nickel. The main way to prevent a rash starting once you have become sensitive to nickel is to avoid coming into prolonged contact with anything made of it.

A mild steroid cream or ointment, such as 1% hydrocortisone cream, may be prescribed by your GP or nurse to clear up the rash and reduce itching.

If your skin becomes damaged after being in contact with nickel, look after it carefully until it is fully healed. Use an emollient frequently to stop the skin becoming dry and cracked.

Practical Tips:

For anything made of metal, try to find out whether it contains nickel.

Wear cotton gloves if you need to handle anything made of nickel at home or work and rubber or PVC gloves with cotton liners for any wet work.

Jewellery can be covered with clear nail varnish to protect the skin, but this is difficult to do and may spoil it. Watches with leather, plastic or fabric straps should be worn instead of those with metal straps.

Keep money in a bag, purse or wallet rather than loose in trouser pockets.

Gold plated and 9ct gold jewellery can contain nickel and should be avoided. 18 and 24 ct gold does not contain nickel. (Plastic can also be good – and cheaper!)

What is patch testing?

Patch testing is used to detect allergies to substances which come into direct contact with the skin.

The sensitizers tested will depend on a number of factors such as:

  • your occupation or hobbies
  • personal use of cosmetics or creams, lotions or ointments

The sensitizers are placed in aluminium chambers attached to adhesive tape. The skin on the back is usually selected as the testing site. The aluminium chambers are placed on the back and left in place for two days.

They are then removed and the skin examined. After a further two days the skin is examined a second time. The Dermatologist is looking for an area of positive reaction to one of the sensitizers. A positive reaction will be itchy, red, swollen and sometimes blistered.

Please contact our Helpline to obtain a copy of our information booklet "Could I have Contact Dermatitis?"  

Contact Dermatitis...

Protective clothing, barrier creams and after work emollients should all be encouraged as preventative measures.