Dermatitis is a general term to mean the irritation of the skin, and the condition can appear anywhere on the body.


It can present at any age, either as small patches of dry, cracked, or scaly skin, or in more serious cases, as widespread pain and inflammation of the skin all over the body.

Dermatitis may be caused by genetics, environmental factors, or an allergic reaction of the skin in response to a particular substance, such as fragrance, metals, different types of jewellery, or chemicals. It may present just a few times in a patient’s lifetime, or it may be a chronic skin issue that requires monitoring and specialist medical treatment to manage.

Dermatitis can be very itchy, causing patients to feel distress, and may create or exacerbate anxiety or self-confidence issues.

For many people, eliminating exposure to an irritant can resolve dermatitis without the need for specialist dermatological treatment, however once the skin is irritated, it may be difficult to soothe, and be more reactive than normal. If the condition does not subside, recurs, or is causing discomfort, patients should consult a dermatologist to help manage the condition.  

If left untreated, or if treated improperly, dermatitis can result in serious complications, such as infection or scarring.

Symptoms of Dermatitis

Dermatitis can appear anywhere on the body, in children and adults.

While in some individuals, dermatitis can appear as small patches of dry, cracked, or scaly skin, others with more serious forms of the condition may experience widespread pain and inflammation of the skin all over the body.

On lighter skin tones, the inflammation that is caused by dermatitis can present as reddish in tone, and on darker skin, ‘patches’ of inflammation may appear as brown, purple or grey. As a result, many patients with darker skin tones may find the condition difficult to see – which can result in frustration and delays in obtaining a medical diagnosis of dermatitis.

There are several types of dermatitis, which means that it is essential for patients who cannot identify what is triggering their outbreaks to seek specialist dermatological advice in order to manage it. A qualified dermatology specialist is also needed if patients have already seen a medical expert, but do not respond successfully to treatment.

The most common form, which often presents in early childhood. The skin may appear to get ‘thicker;’ turn lighter or darker; and small bumps may appear, and ‘leak’ fluid as a result of scratching.
There are two forms of contact dermatitis; allergic contact dermatitis, which is a reaction of the immune system to an irritant (for example latex or metals); and irritant contact dermatitis, which is when the skin is irritated by a chemical or other substance. Itchy hives or fluid-filled blisters may present on the skin, which can become ‘leathery’ over time.
Similar to atopic dermatitis, the condition causes thick, scaly patches to present on the arms; legs; back of neck; scalp; soles of the feet; backs of the hands; or in the genital area, and scratching may cause bleeding.
This condition occurs when the fluid in weakened veins leak into the skin, causing swelling, redness, itching, and pain. Patients may notice swelling of the legs when walking around during the day; aching legs; and open sores on the legs and tops of the feet. Patients with stasis dermatitis are likely to have varicose veins, and the skin over the veins may be dry and and itchy.

While all forms of dermatitis can cause distress, some may present more serious issues than others if left untreated, or if treated improperly. Scratching or otherwise interfering with dermatitis may cause infection or other complications, so it is important to seek medical advice if the condition persists or worsens.

Causes of Dermatitis

Some dermatitis may be caused by allergies, or contact with chemicals and certain metals, but it may be triggered by other issues – for example, genetic predisposition; problems with the immune system; environmental factors; infections; skin dryness; or stress.

Contact dermatitis

The most common allergenic substances known to irritate the skin are detergents; cosmetic products; soaps and perfumes; jewellery; nickel; latex; paint; poisonous plants; solvents and tobacco smoke.


The condition often presents when there are co-occurring skin conditions, for example, other forms of eczema, or psoriasis.

Stasis dermatitis

This condition occurs in people who have problems with blood-flow to their lower legs. If the valves that push blood back up toward the heart are functioning abnormally, or sub-optimally, this can cause the blood to pool in the legs, making them swell and forming varicose veins.

Dermatology research has also determined that some patients may suffer from the ‘atopic triad,’ meaning they have all three conditions: asthma, hay fever and atopic dermatitis.

Different types of dermatitis may have other causes, some common factors that may trigger dermatitis include:

Whether it’s a perfume, a cologne, or an additive to your washing powder, synthetic fragrance is known to irritate the skin, and may contain triggering chemicals.
As with fragrances, chemicals in cosmetic products for the face, body and hair can irritate the skin. Additionally, certain products contain sulfates and synthetic colours, which are not suitable for everyone.
Some people work in fields that increase their exposure to skin irritants, like solvents and bleaches.
People who work with jewelry may develop a sensitivity or allergy over time, even if they have not previously had any skin problems.

While each type of dermatitis can cause distress, some may present more serious issues than others if left untreated, or if treated improperly.

Scratching or otherwise interfering with dermatitis may cause infection or other complications, so it is important to seek medical advice if the condition persists or worsens.

If the substance triggering the condition cannot be identified; or if a medical professional has already been consulted, but the condition is unresponsive to treatment, it is vital to see a dermatologist, who is specialised in the analysis, diagnosis and treatment of skin conditions, and will be able to offer treatment beyond what’s available from a GP.

What to Expect in Treating Dermatitis at Derma

Your appointment to assess and treat eczema will begin with a skin check and medical history, followed by a discussion on the recommended treatment options.

The dermatologist will explain all of the potential side-effects, to enable you to select the best treatment option for you. Many patients find that their dermatitis responds well to emollients, creams or topical corticosteroid therapy.

Due to the specialised nature of dermatology, and our significant experience in treating dermatitis, our experts are likely to be able to prescribe treatments more effective than those prescribed by GPs.

These treatments can more quickly and effectively control and manage dermatitis, eliminating all the symptoms so that there is no more discomfort. In many cases, this level of comfort can then be maintained.

For more delicate areas, or for prolonged treatment, Derma is able to offer alternatives to steroid treatments – such as light treatment (also known as phototherapy); and for more severe dermatitis cases, it may be possible to prescribe tablets that help to better regulate the immune system.

Whatever your needs, you can rest assured that Derma will provide the very best care for your skin, with access to the latest research and treatments.

Frequently Asked Questions

Dermatitis is not contagious and can’t be caught from someone or something else. Dermatitis, otherwise known as eczema is a complex skin condition that is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Eczema is very common and whilst it commonly occurs in childhood, it can occur at any age at any site of the body.

Contact dermatitis will continue as long as you are coming into contact with the trigger that is driving the inflammation.  You would need to confirm that there is a specific allergy that is driving the rash and for this, you need patch testing which is a form of allergy testing looking for reactions to any items that your skin is coming into contact with.  This can include day to day items such as fragrances or preservatives found in your shower gel or moisturiser.

If dermatitis isn’t controlled then it can spread slowly to involve larger patches. Rarely, eczema or dermatitis can spread to other parts of the body as an acute, generalised phenomenon known as an id reaction or autosensitisation. The cause of this is unknown. This is often diagnosed in older people who present with an original dermatitis that presents on the lower legs but can occur in children as well as adults.

Stress will not cause dermatitis or eczema but it can certainly make it worse. During periods of stress, we release more cortisol which is a stress hormone. Cortisol can lead to inflammation which will aggravate the skin.

Related Specialists at Derma

The following dermatologists specialise in Dermatitis

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