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Contact or irritant contact dermatitis occurs when the skin comes in direct contact with a substance that physically, mechanically, or chemically irritates the skin, causing the normal skin barrier to be disrupted. The most common causes of irritant dermatitis are products used on a daily basis, including soap, cleansers, and rubbing alcohol. People with other skin conditions, dry skin, and light-colored or “fair” skin are at greatest risk, although anyone can develop irritant dermatitis.

Mild irritants cause redness, dryness, fissures (small cracks), and itching. Strong irritants may cause swelling, oozing, tenderness, or blisters. The hands are commonly affected, often between the fingers. Irritant dermatitis can also affect the face, especially the thin skin of the eyelids.

The diagnosis of irritant contact dermatitis is usually based upon a person’s history and physical examination. In some cases, a patch test (applying a small amount of a substance to the skin) may be recommended to determine the condition.

Allergists are trained in the evaluation and treatment of contact dermatitis and can help in the prevention and management of these conditions.

(Information only; not intended to replace medical advice; adapted from AAAAI)