Your skin is constantly exposed to the elements, making it susceptible to a variety of problems, including the common condition dermatitis.

"Dermatitis" is a general term that describes an inflammation of the skin. There are different types of dermatitis, including seborrheic dermatitis and atopic dermatitis (eczema). Though the disorder can have many causes and occur in many forms, it usually involves swollen, reddened and itchy skin.

Dermatitis is a common condition that isn't life-threatening or contagious. But, it can make you feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. A combination of self-care steps and medications can help you treat dermatitis.

Signs and symptoms

There are several types of dermatitis, including:

  • Contact dermatitis

  • Neurodermatitis

  • Seborrheic dermatitis

  • Stasis dermatitis

  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema)

  • Perioral dermatitis

Each has distinct signs and symptoms. Common signs and symptoms include redness, swelling, itching and skin lesions.


A number of health conditions, allergies, genetic factors, physical and mental stress, and irritants can cause dermatitis.

Contact dermatitis results from direct contact with one of many irritants or allergens. Common irritants include laundry soap, skin soaps or detergents, and cleaning products. Possible allergens include rubber, metals such as nickel, jewelry, perfume, cosmetics, weeds such as poison ivy, and neomycin, a common ingredient in topical antibiotic creams. It takes a greater amount of an irritant over a longer time to cause dermatitis than it takes for an allergen. If you're sensitized to an allergen, just brief exposure to a small amount of it can cause dermatitis

Neurodermatitis typically develops in areas where something, such as a tight garment, rubs or scratches your skin. This irritation may lead you to rub or scratch your skin repeatedly in that area. Common locations include ankles, wrist, outer forearm or arm, and the back of your neck..

Seborrheic dermatitis causes a red rash with a yellowish and somewhat "oily" scale. It's common in people with oily skin or hair, and it may come and go depending on the season of the year. It may occur during times of physical stress, travel or in people who have neurological conditions, such as Parkinson's disease. In infants, this disorder is known as cradle cap.

Stasis dermatitis can occur when fluid accumulates in the tissues just beneath your skin, and typically involves the lower leg. The extra fluid interferes with your blood's ability to nourish your skin and places extra pressure against the skin from underneath. Varicose veins and other chronic conditions that slow the return of venous blood in your legs often cause this fluid buildup.

Atopic dermatitis often occurs with allergies and frequently runs in families in which other family members have asthma or hay fever. It usually begins in infancy and may vary in severity during childhood and adolescence. It tends to become less of a problem in adulthood, unless you're exposed to allergens or irritants in the workplace. The exact cause of this disorder is unknown, but is likely due to a combination of dry, irritable skin together with a malfunction in the body's immune system. Stress can exacerbate atopic dermatitis, but it doesn't cause it.

Perioral dermatitis may be a form of the skin disorder rosacea, adult acne or seborrheic dermatitis, involving the skin around the mouth or nose. The exact cause is unknown, but makeup, moisturizers, topical corticosteroids or some dental products containing fluoride may play a role.


Preventing contact dermatitis means avoiding coming into contact with those substances such as poison ivy or harsh soaps that may cause it.

Avoiding dry skin may be one factor in helping you prevent future bouts of dermatitis. These tips can help you minimize the drying effects of bathing on your skin:

Bathe less frequently. Most people who are prone to eczema don't need to bathe daily. Try going a day or two without a shower or bath. When you do bathe, limit yourself to 15 to 20 minutes, and use warm, rather than hot, water.

Use only certain soaps or synthetic detergents. Choose mild soaps, such as Basis, Dove or Oil of Olay, that clean without excessively removing natural oils. Deodorant and antibacterial soaps may be more drying to your skin. Use soap only on your face, underarms, genital areas, hands and feet. Use clear water elsewhere.

Dry yourself carefully. Brush your skin rapidly with the palms of your hands, or gently pat your skin dry with a towel after bathing.

Moisturize your skin. Seal in moisture, while your skin is still damp, with oil or cream. Pay special attention to your legs, arms, back and the sides of your body. If your skin is already dry, consider using a lubricating cream made for dry skin, such as Eucerin.


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