What is Dermatitis?

by Dr. Frank Litchenberger MD, PhD, Practicing Allergist Discusses Dermatitis.

It can be confusing when one person calls what you have “dermatitis” and another calls it “eczema.” These two terms are used interchangeably to describe a group of skin conditions that produce inflammation and rashes.

Dermatitis is the general state of skin inflammation, but there are several types, each of which can cause a variety of troublesome symptoms.

Common Types of Dermatitis

Atopic Dermatitis

The condition most commonly referred to as “eczema,” atopic dermatitis (AD) results from an overactive immune response to an external or internal substance. In most cases, AD develops during infancy, and it is more likely in families prone to allergies and asthma.

AD can come and go, and while some outgrow it, half of those affected will continue to have flare-ups into adulthood. Symptoms of AD include:

  • Dry, scaly patches
  • Intense itchiness
  • Redness
  • Sores (that may leak fluid)

Learn more about atopic dermatitis.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is when skin becomes inflamed in response to coming into contact with an irritating substance or allergen. It’s an extremely common condition. There are thousands of potential irritants and allergens, but the most frequent culprits are:

  • Harsh chemicals like bleach and pesticides
  • Nickel-plated jewelry
  • Personal care products
  • Plants

Even water can become an irritant for people who wash their hands excessively (such as medical professionals) or often have wet hands (such as beauticians and bartenders).

Symptoms of contact dermatitis include:

  • Bumps or blisters
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Burning or itching
  • Cracked or scaly skin

Learn more about contact dermatitis.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Called cradle cap in newborns, seborrheic dermatitis is similar to dandruff but is more persistent and often more severe. It appears in oily areas such as the scalp, face, ears and upper back. While the cause is unknown, it’s thought that hormones, genes and yeast naturally found on skin may all contribute.

Symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis include:

  • White or yellowish flakes
Learn more about seborrheic dermatitis.

When to See a Doctor

“If you have any kind of bothersome skin irritation or rash, it’s best to see your family doctor or dermatologist,”

Dermatitis Treatment at Home

In addition to medication prescribed by a doctor, there are several measures you can take at home to effectively relieve your symptoms and calm inflammation. Consider trying these home remedies:

  • Reduce exposure to allergens and irritating substances: Your skin can start the healing process once triggers are eliminated.
  • Maintain a regular bathing and moisturizing routine: Clean and moist creates an environment conducive to healing.
  • Apply soothing eczema-safe creams and cleansers: This protects the skin barrier and seals in moisture.
  • Manage stress through exercise, meditation or yoga: Stress can lead to atopic and seborrheic dermatitis flare-ups.
  • Try an oatmeal bath or bleach bath: Oatmeal baths soothe inflammation and itch while bleach baths reduce the number of bacteria present on the skin.
  • Apply wet compresses or try wet wrap therapy overnight: The cool moisture reduces itchiness and keeps skin moist for healing.

For more skin irritation solutions, check out our full line of eczema products.

NOTE: This content is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for a consultation, diagnosis and/or medical treatment by a healthcare provider.

Atopic dermatitisContact dermatitisDermatitisSeborrheic dermatitis