Contact dermatitis is an incredibly common skin rash. Most cases can be treated at home and will go away within a few weeks. For more stubborn cases, prescription corticosteroids may be needed. In any case, identifying and avoiding the triggering substance is imperative to allow the skin to heal.

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

Contact dermatitis is very common. The vast majority of people will develop contact dermatitis at least once in their lifetime.2 In most cases, contact dermatitis is not serious and will heal on its own within about three weeks. Good home care can help speed healing and keep you more comfortable while the rash heals.

Identify and Avoid the Offending Substance

One of the most important things you must do to treat contact dermatitis is to avoid the substance(s) that are causing your skin irritation. Unfortunately, this is sometimes easier said than done.

In some cases, you’ll know right away what is causing contact dermatitis (a rash that develops on your underarms after switching deodorant brands, or on the eyelids after trying new eye makeup). Other times, it may take some sleuthing to figure it out.

Think of anything new in your life: skin or hair care products, laundry detergent, fragrance or perfume, household cleaners, jewelry, and even clothing. Often the location of the rash will help you figure it out.

Also, take into account the products you have used for years. Could they have changed formulations? It’s also quite possible, and very common, to develop a sensitivity to products you’ve used over a long period of time.3

Use Cool Compresses

Contact dermatitis can be incredibly itchy. Cool, damp compresses can take the sting, itch, and burn from the rash. Lay a cloth dampened in cool water over the rash for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, several times per day.

Lukewarm Baths or Oatmeal Baths

Lukewarm baths are soothing. Don’t add any fragranced bath products or bubble bath. These can cause more irritation.

Oatmeal, on the other hand, can be very soothing and relieve itching. You can buy colloidal oatmeal bath additives over the counter. Just make sure the brand you choose has no added fragrance, which can be irritating.4 Another simple and inexpensive option is to make your own oatmeal bath.

If you aren’t keen on the mess in the tub, pour the oatmeal into a cotton muslin or organza bag, or tie it into a thin washcloth or nylon stocking. The entire bundle is then floated in the bathwater.

While bathing, you may want to avoid fragranced soap and body washes as well. Mild, unscented soap can be used, or if these seem to aggravate the rash, use plain water until your skin has healed.

Moisturize Often

For dry, cracked skin, apply a moisturizer as a barrier and to soothe the skin until it has healed. Choose your moisturizing products carefully, though, since fragranced products can cause more irritation. Be sure to choose a fragrance-free, hypo-allergenic product.

Apply as often as needed throughout the day to relieve dryness, but especially immediately after showering (or washing your hands, if your hands are affected) and just before bed.

Continue to apply emollient moisturizers often, even after your rash has cleared up. Regular application of moisturizers can help heal and strengthen the skin’s barrier and may help minimize the chance of repeated bouts of contact dermatitis.5

Cover the Affected Area

Keeping the rash covered by clothing can act as a physical barrier to prevent scratching. This is an especially good tip for children, who can’t help themselves when faced with an annoyingly itchy rash.

Minimizing Exposure at Work

Many people discover the cause of their contact dermatitis is a substance they’re exposed to at work.6 Hairdressers and estheticians, health care workers, housekeepers and janitors, cooks, florists, and those who work in manufacturing jobs are especially at risk.

In this case, so there’s really no way to completely avoid coming in contact with the offending substance. There are things you can do to limit your exposure, though. If your hands are affected, wear gloves whenever possible—latex can be an irritant in itself, so you may have better luck with non-latex or nitrile gloves. Also, wear a protective equipment face mask, goggles, long sleeves and pants, gloves. Avoid letting the irritants touch your skin directly.

If you need further help, ask your doctor for tips on avoiding irritating substances at work.

Tips for Contact Dermatitis Caused By Pant Snaps

Nickel is a common cause of contact dermatitis.7 Unfortunately, most snaps and buttons on jeans and other pants contain nickel. This can cause a rash where the back of the snap rests on your stomach.

Try using iron-on or adhesive fabric patches (found at craft and fabric stores) to cover the backing that comes in contact with your skin. They’re easy to apply and you won’t have to get rid of all your favorite jeans. Along the same lines, if you can’t bear to stop wearing your favorite belt buckle, make sure you wear an undershirt tucked in to prevent the buckle from coming in direct contact with your skin.