Dermatitis is a general term used to describe skin irritation and inflammation. There are a range of types of dermatitis that can have a number of causes, and present in many different ways. The most common forms of dermatitis are contact dermatitis and atopic dermatitis (also known as eczema).

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is caused by direct contact by an irritant to the skin, resulting in red, itchy and inflamed skin.

The severity of the reaction will vary depending on

  • The type of irritant that came into contact with the skin
  • The concentration or quantity of the irritant
  • The length of exposure to the irritant

Contact dermatitis is said to account for the majority of occupational skin disorders. Common irritants that are encountered in the workplace include

  • Latex gloves (healthcare and hairdressing)
  • Hair dyes, shampoos and other hair products (hairdressing)
  • Soaps and detergents (healthcare and hospitality)
  • Cement (tradespeople)

Eczema (atopic dermatitis)

Eczema is a common, non-contagious skin condition which results in flare-ups of red, itchy, dry, painful and inflamed skin. It can affect any age (although it is more common in children) and varies in severity. It is caused by a person’s inability to repair damage to the skin barrier which causes moisture to leave the skin, which becomes dry and scaly. Allergens and irritants can enter the skin and then trigger an inflammatory immune response which makes the skin red and itchy.

Eczema is commonly triggered by

  • Dry Skin
  • Heat
  • Irritants such as some metals, fragrances, soaps, chemicals or some fabrics

Eczema can develop in people of any age, however it is more common in children. There is a strong genetic link, therefore you are more likely to develop eczema if you have a family history of eczema or other allergic conditions such as hayfever or asthma. The majority of children will grow out of the condition by their early teens, however it may persist into adulthood in a small number of people.

Symptoms of eczema

  • Skin dryness
  • Itchiness
  • Red and scaly areas (typically on the elbows and behind the knees)
  • Watery fluid weeping from affected skin
  • Lesions that may become infected

(Source: Better Health Channel)

Dry skin

Managing dry skin is one of the most important steps in managing dermatitis and controlling eczema flare-ups. Establishing a good hygiene and moisturising routine, as well as avoiding irritants can help to control dry skin. This includes

  • Using a soap-free wash (i.e. QV Wash, Cetaphil, Dermaveen), as soap dries out the skin, and worsens eczema symptoms. Many soap products also contain fragrances, which may increase irritation.
  • Using bath oils, which can help moisturise while bathing
  • Regularly moisturising with a fragrance-free cream or an ointment (at least twice per day).

Lotion, cream or ointment?

Lotions: contain a higher amount of water than creams. It is for this reason they are less effective at managing dry skin than creams or ointments.
Creams: spread more easily and absorb more quickly into skin than an ointment. Less likely to leave a sticky or greasy feeling.
Ointments: have stronger moisturising properties.
More effective in more severe or persistent cases of dry skin. Can leave a sticky or greasy residue on the skin.

Lifestyle advice

  • Avoid irritants
  • Avoid overheating skin as this can cause irritation
    • Have warm, not really hot showers
    • Remove excessive blankets on bed
    • Avoid long duration of sun exposure
  • Cut fingernails short to avoid damaging the skin when scratching
  • Test new products on a small patch on forearm to check for a reaction
  • Controlling the itch
    • Wear soft materials on skin (preferably 100% cotton) and avoid scratchy materials such as pure wool, acrylic or polyester
    • Use a cold compress to ease the itch rather than scratching
  • Use protective gloves when using any chemical or detergent
  • Don’t overheat or overcool your house as the sudden change in temperature (when moving inside or outside) can irritate the skin.

Speak to your local UFS Pharmacist for advice on the best treatment for you.