Contact dermatitis is a rash that occurs after an offending chemical comes into contact with the skin. This allergic reaction is something our immune system “learns” to do. If an individual is repeatedly exposed to a chemical, their immune system may begin to recognize it as an invader. When this occurs, any future exposure to the chemical will cause the same allergic reaction to flare. Symptoms can range from mild irritation or itching, to severe red rash with blistering and weeping of the skin.
Most people are familiar with the contact dermatitis caused by poison oak or poison ivy, but there are countless other potential allergens in our environment; some common ones include fragrances, dyes, preservatives, cosmetics, soaps, latex, topical antibiotics, metals, and various plant-derived substances. It is a common misconception that only a new exposure can cause contact dermatitis, as repeated exposure is required for sensitization.
The vast majority of the time, the offending agent is not apparent simply based upon the appearance of the resulting rash. At the Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery, we use an extended series of patch testing to evaluate an individual’s sensitization to over 70 of the most common chemicals, metals and botanicals (this is different from skin prick testing, which is performed by an allergist). We also use the Contact Allergen Management Program (CAMP), which is a valuable allergen avoidance resource for our patients. CAMP translates patch test results into an easy to navigate list of products that are free from an individual’s particular allergens. It contains product information for personal care products, household products, industrial products and more.
If you think you may be suffering from allergic contact dermatitis or want to learn more about patch testing, please schedule an appointment with one of our medical providers.