Know The Difference Between Allergic and Irritant Dermatitis

Woman scratching

Our skin is one of the first lines of defense that our body has available to it. It acts as a shield against various elements of the outside world that might otherwise damage the more tender systems beneath the skin. That’s technically part of why your skin constantly sheds and repairs itself. The barrier needs to be replaced constantly to help minimize the potential for issues. Otherwise you start to run into various issues. Contact dermatitis is one of the most common examples of this. It is a form of skin condition caused by contact with an outside substance that somehow causes a negative reaction from the skin. This condition is further sub-divided into allergic and irritant dermatitis depending on the exact cause. Learning the difference between the two is fairly important as they can involve different kinds of treatment on top of being different sources for the problem. Let’s take a closer look so that we’re all more well-informed on this skincare topic.

Irritant Dermatitis
This form of contact dermatitis is one that we’re all likely highly familiar with, but not through personal experience. All those warnings you’ve seen on containers for cleaners such as bleach and similar products tend to have a direct word of warning about contact with the skin risking permanent damage. That’s due to irritant dermatitis. Specific chemicals tend to interact with the skin in entirely negative ways and result in direct issues with the skin such as itching, blistering, and thinning of the skin. Irritant dermatitis can also be caused by compounds in some plants as well. Irritant dermatitis is generally fairly easy to avoid by simply not coming into contact with the compounds that can cause it. However, it can also be caused by a lack of contact with humidity as well. If the humidity gets too low, the skin can become irritated by becoming too dry. This is also relatively easy to solve with a moisturizer. Chemical irritants can generally be neutralized and the damage healed. Most of us have likely leaped to the conclusion that poison ivy counts as a plant-based version of irritant dermatitis, but that’s not exactly the case.

Allergic Dermatitis
Poison ivy and similar plants, despite causing their infamous reactions by contact with a chemical on them, are actually causing allergic dermatitis. The substances they secrete cause the skin to have an allergic reaction that can end up being somewhat self-sustaining depending on the severity of the reaction. That’s why allergic dermatitis is actually more common overall. All it requires is that someone come in contact with a substance to which they or humans in general have an allergic reaction. The most common causes used to be coming into contact with the wrong kind of plants, but these days there can be a variety of other substances responsible as well. Allergic dermatitis tends to react like most allergies and can result in obvious irritation, hives, and similar problems. It is a bit harder to contain than irritant dermatitis because the actual reaction causing the problem is coming from your own body and it must be calmed before your skin will properly clear up.

An Important Difference
While both of these conditions are contact dermatitis, their key differences are important to note. Each one needs different treatments to stop them and return the skin to health. Irritant dermatitis is comparatively easy in that the biggest problem is simply neutralizing and caring for the affected area. Once you’ve removed the problem, you’re generally just going to have to focus on healing it. This isn’t the case with allergic dermatitis. Not only do you need to remove and neutralize the source of the problem, but you need to stop and contain the allergic reaction to prevent it from progressing and causing further issues. Treatment is important in both cases though. You need to stop both to help avoid any permanent damage to the skin. Fortunately, the differences will typically make it easy for you to tell one reaction from the other and properly treat the problem.

When in doubt, you’ll want to talk to your doctor to help you figure out which kind of contact dermatitis you’re experiencing. Never hesitate on this if you’ve experienced any form of lasting irritation as you might have some of a compound left in contact with your skin. The general rule here is to simply be mindful of your skin and wash it regularly if it feels irritated. Sometimes that alone will be enough, but don’t expect to get through life without experiencing one of these problems.

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