by the Alurx Medical & Medical Council
How do you differentiate an occasional skin irritation from an allergic reaction or “eczema”? When it comes to skin sensitivities and rashes, it can be challenging to identify their triggers and the type of care required. They are most commonly referred to as “eczema”, but this is a basket term that references how a rash can appear and feel on the skin without telling us the cause. The range of causes for eczema includes atopic dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, and irritant contact dermatitis, amongst several other possible diagnoses such as dyshidrosis. Some of the most common new-onset rashes that dermatologists treat fall under the category of contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis is broken down into two types:
Allergic contact dermatitis:
Many patients find that when they use various products, their skin can get itchy, sensitive, and even swell or become irritated. In these cases, a type of allergy testing called patch testing is extremely helpful to pinpoint the actual culprit. One of the most common forms of patch testing consists of placing 3 sticker panels that test for 35 of the most common preservatives, metals, dyes, and other products. It does not require any needles or skin pricks, nor test directly for environmental or food allergens. It is always fascinating to see what comes up as reactive on these tests. This is testing for a true “allergic” reaction, meaning that it is mediated by our immune system.
Irritant contact dermatitis:
Many personal care products have ingredients that are meant to make our skin look more youthful by “plumping” it up, or are very concentrated such as fragrances and plant extracts, which can lead directly to skin irritation. Anyone exposed to these products or ingredients - not just those with a true specific allergy - can potentially have a reaction, even if they are natural and deemed non-toxic. Many people also place the blame on things like laundry detergents, which is rarely a trigger in practice.
The main conclusion to draw from the various causes of contact dermatitis is the importance of learning how to identify the ingredients that you may react to with the assistance of your physician.
Our recommendations are the following:
- Talk to your dermatologist about your symptoms to decide if patch testing may be a reasonable option to find the causes of your reactions.
- Keeping your skin hydrated is the first layer of protection against the environment around us. It restores, repairs, and protects the superficial layers of skin to make us less susceptible to dryness and environmental irritants or allergens.
- Read ingredient labels, research chemical names that you are unfamiliar with and avoid those which do not disclose detailed information.