Combating Common Skin Irritants
Finding the Source of Skin Irritation
If you suspect that a certain product or substance is causing your dermatitis, avoid it and watch whether your rash improves.
But it’s not always easy to pinpoint a specific cause. For example, your eyelids may be chronically dry, red and flaky, but what’s to blame: your eyeshadow, eyeliner, makeup remover, or overnight eye cream?
Sometimes, people have no clue at all -- they get a rash, but they can’t recall the substances that have touched their skin. Or their facial skin becomes inflamed, leading them to suspect a face product. In fact, they might have unwittingly transferred a substance from their hands to their face. The substance doesn’t affect the hands, but the more sensitive facial skin will react.
If you can’t figure out the source of irritation, see a dermatologist. He or she will quiz you about your job, household chores, hobbies, drug and cosmetics use, and other factors in order to gain clues about the root of the problem.
Your doctor may also do testing. No test can be performed for irritant contact dermatitis. But your doctor may do patch testing to see if you’re sensitive to various types of allergens that are known to cause dermatitis. Small patches of these substances are placed on your skin for one to two days so that your doctor can check if a rash develops.
Preventing and Treating Contact Dermatitis
To relieve itching, contact dermatitis is commonly treated with:
- Oral or topical steroids
- Oral antihistamines
- Skin emollients
- Oatmeal baths
Once you’re no longer exposed to the irritant or allergen, redness usually vanishes after a week. But itching, scaling, and temporary skin thickening may go on for days or weeks.
You can also take steps to protect your sensitive skin from developing contact dermatitis. For example:
- Once you’ve identified an offending substance, avoid it. Wear gloves or protective clothing to prevent exposing your skin to cleansers, weeds, and other substances during housework or yard work. If your skin makes contact, wash the substance off right away with soap and water.
- Learn to recognize poison ivy and poison oak.
- Use mild, unscented laundry detergent.
- If you have sensitive facial skin, consider using gentle, soap-free, liquid cleansers. Or use a moisturizing soap that’s free of fragrance and dyes.
- Don’t scrub your face vigorously with a rough washcloth or buff puff. Instead, cleanse gently and pat dry.
- Avoid deodorant or antibacterial soaps.
- Choose moisturizers, sunscreens, and cosmetics that are fragrance-free and don’t contain acids or botanical ingredients. Physical sunblocks that contain zinc oxide or titanium oxide are less likely to cause skin problems than chemical sunscreens.
- Test cosmetics and personal care products before using. Apply a small amount of the new product twice a day to a small patch of skin near the inside of your elbow. If no irritation occurs in that spot after a week, you can try using the product.
Protect your skin by applying petroleum jelly or a thick, moisturizing cream two or three times a day.