Dermatitis means, literally, inflammation or irritation of the skin, and is not so much the name of a specific skin condition as of a group of conditions, characterised by redness and itching, often intense.

There are several types of dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is often hereditary (runs in families), and it is linked to other conditions such as asthma and hayfever.

Contact dermatitis occurs when your body comes into contact with a particular substance, which causes your skin to become inflamed. There are two types of contact dermatitis.

  • Allergic contact dermatitis: this type of dermatitis is caused by an allergen. An allergen is a substance which causes your immune system (which normally fights illness and infection) to react abnormally.

When you're exposed to an allergen for the first time, you become sensitised to it. After that, every time you have contact with the allergen, it causes a reaction.

  • Irritant contact dermatitis: this type of dermatitis is caused by contact with an irritant. An irritant is a substance that damages the skin, causing it to become inflamed. It can occur in anyone who is exposed to irritants for a sufficient amount of time. Both types of contact dermatitis can cause your skin to become red, blistered, dry and cracked.

Sometimes it is possible to have both irritant and allergic contact dermatitis at the same time.

Sensitivity to one or more substances with which the skin has come into contact is often the immediate cause, though stress is a predisposing factor.

Irritant contact dermatitis is more common than allergic contact dermatitis. Approximately 80% of contact dermatitis cases are caused by irritants.

Approximately 75% of all contact dermatitis cases affect the hands. It is also more common in women, with approximately 20% of females experiencing contact dermatitis on their hands at some point during their lives.

Contact dermatitis can develop at any age. Older people can be more sensitive to medicines, whereas women can be at risk from cosmetics and other substances used as part of their jobs. Contact dermatitis is less common in children, but the number of children with the condition is increasing. 

All essential oils and treatments described under ECZEMA areappropriate. Oils such as Camomile, Bergamot, Lavender, Melissa and Neroli are very important here, and should be used in massage and in baths that can be used every day at home, or when the person with Dermatitis is feeling particularly fraught. Bergamot, Geranium and Lavender are other oils that can be used to help, but in each case a little trial-and-error may be necessary, since this is such an individual and unpredictable condition. In every case, use the oil in a very low dilution initially.

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