Skin Home > Irritant Contact Dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis may occur when a person's skin is exposed to an irritating substance (such as a pesticide, detergent, or industrial solvent). When the condition is caused by a mild irritant, the affected skin may become red and dry. Blistering, swelling, and immediate pain may result when the skin is exposed to a strong irritant. Treatment options for can include avoiding the irritating substance, taking certain medications, and using emollient cream.

What Is Irritant Contact Dermatitis?

Irritant contact dermatitis is a type of eczema caused by exposure to substances in the environment. It is the most common type of contact dermatitis (allergic contact dermatitis is the other, less common type). It can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity.

What Causes It?

Irritation of the skin is the most common cause of irritant contact dermatitis. Any substance that damages the outer protective barrier of the skin (known as the epidermis) can cause this condition. Some of these substances are strong irritants, like certain industrial solvents and soaps; others are weak, like water.
Some of the factors that play a role in a person developing irritant contact dermatitis include:
  • The strength of the chemicals
  • How long the exposure lasts
  • The sensitivity of the skin
  • Other medical conditions a person has, such as atopic dermatitis
  • Environmental conditions, such as heat and humidity.
Virtually anything can irritate the skin if the exposure occurs for a long enough time. Some examples of substances that can cause irritant contact dermatitis include:
  • Strong alkaline soaps
  • Industrial solvents
  • Detergents
  • Thinners
  • Wood preservatives
  • Cement
  • Disinfectants
  • Oils
  • Grease
  • Pesticides
  • Artificial fertilizers
  • Gasoline
  • Clay or plaster
  • Paint
  • Flour
  • Shampoos.
Repeated exposure to wet conditions can also cause the condition. Some examples of situations that can repeatedly expose a person to wet conditions include:
  • Any occupation in which wet conditions are common, such as construction, hairdressing, nursing, and food service.
  • Long exposure to wet diapers followed by frequent washing.
  • Dribble rash (irritant contact dermatitis around the mouth or chin from saliva). In infants, it is due to drooling; in older children, it is due to repeated lip-licking.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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