What Can Trigger Contact Dermatitis? Causes and Symptoms

Medically Reviewed on 3/15/2022
contact dermatitis
Learn the common triggers, causes, and symptoms of contact dermatitis below.

Substances that commonly trigger contact dermatitis include:

  • Adhesives (sticky substances in plasters)
  • Plants (chamomile and arnica)
  • Scents (in cosmetics such as lipsticks, perfumes, and soaps)
  • Metals (nickel and cobalt)
  • Latex rubber
  • Medications that are applied to the skin
  • Cleaning agents and solvents
  • Essential oils

Over 3,000 chemicals are known to trigger contact dermatitis. However, almost 25 of these chemicals are responsible for half of all cases of contact dermatitis.

What are the symptoms of contact dermatitis?

Symptoms of contact dermatitis depend on the following factors:

  • The substance you are allergic to
  • Length of exposure
  • The degree to which you are sensitive to the substance that causes the allergy

Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Blisters
  • Cracked skin
  • Change in skin tone and texture
  • Burning or stinging sensation
  • Swelling
  • Crusting
  • Ulceration
  • Pain
  • Discharge from skin

Some people may experience severe symptoms that are beyond skin irritations:

13 causes of contact dermatitis

Some of the triggers and causes of contact dermatitis are discussed below:

Poison ivy:

Poison ivy is a common plant that causes an allergic reaction. It is the most common example of short-term allergic contact dermatitis in North America. When people come in contact with this plant, a red streak forms on the area where the plant parts meet the skin.


Nickel is the most common metal that causes allergic contact dermatitis globally. Cases of nickel-causing contact dermatitis are on the rapid increase in North America.

Nickel can be commonly found in:

  • Earrings or necklaces
  • Keypads of some cell phones

Nickel is the top possible occupational allergen, in which nickel-induced contact dermatitis is commonly seen in:

  • Hairdressers
  • Retail clerks
  • Caterers
  • Domestic cleaners
  • Metalworkers

Individuals who come in contact with nickel from the diet may develop swelling on the side of the fingers.

Rubber gloves:

People who constantly use rubber gloves may be at a high risk of an allergy to one or more chemicals in rubber gloves. Allergy is commonly seen on the upper side of the hand. 

Individuals allergic to rubber gloves may have similar allergies with elastic waistbands due to similar chemical components.

Hair dye and temporary tattoos:

The p-Phenylenediamine (PPD), frequently found in permanent hair dyes and temporary tattoos, can cause severe allergic reactions with facial swelling. Black henna tattoos may have PPD, causing an allergic reaction in adults and children.

The incidence of PPD-related contact dermatitis globally are as follows:

  • Asia: 4.3 percent
  • Europe: 4 percent
  • North America: 6.2 percent


Dyes and permanent press and wash-and-wear chemicals commonly used in textiles can cause allergic reactions on the sides of the body, sparing the armpit. New clothes can trigger an allergic reaction in many people because subsequent washing can reduce the concentration of chemicals. While testing, the individual may be tested with a series of chemicals.


Preservatives used in the following products can trigger contact dermatitis in some people:

  • Cosmetics
  • Moisturizers
  • Topical medications

Some of the most common preservatives that are known to cause contact dermatitis include:

  • Quaternium-15
  • Isothiazolinones
  • Formaldehyde

Certain shampoos, lotions, and moisturizers may have preservative chemicals that leach formaldehyde, known as formaldehyde releasers.


Fragrances commonly found in perfumes, lotions, colognes, aftershaves, deodorants, and soaps can trigger allergies. Apart from these products, fragrances are used in many other products to mask unpleasant odors. Even an unscented product may have fragrance chemicals that may not be labeled as a fragrance.

Exact fragrance chemicals are not labeled in perfumes. In the United States, there is no mandate to release the name of fragrance that irritates. Massage and physical therapists are at a high risk of an allergic reaction to fragrances.


Some individuals with chronic dermatitis are prone to develop an allergy to topical corticosteroids. Most people may be allergic to topical or systemic corticosteroids; hence, treating with a different corticosteroid may not be effective.

To identify topical corticosteroids allergy, budesonide and tixocortol pivalate are used in patch test corticosteroids.


Allergy to neomycin is more common in people treated with chronic stasis dermatitis and venous ulcers than when it is used as a topical antibiotic on cuts and abrasions in children. Individuals allergic to neomycin may be allergic to other drugs of the drug class aminoglycosides. Avoid using neomycin topically and systemically if you are allergic to it.


People allergic to benzocaine should avoid its use. Individuals allergic to benzocaine should be given another numbing medicine called lidocaine


Some individuals may exhibit sunscreen allergy; however, the allergy may be due to preservatives rather than other sunscreen components. People with sunscreen allergies may develop nonspecific skin irritation from these products.


Ultraviolet light from the sun may trigger an allergic reaction or when the skin has a chemical and is exposed sufficiently to ultraviolet light.

Acrylate and methacrylate:

These agents are commonly found in:

  • Manufacturing
  • Nail acrylics
  • Wound dressings

These substances often trigger an immune response. When the immune cells encounter any of the above allergens, they release different chemicals, causing skin irritation. An allergic reaction may occur only on the skin and may take about 24 to 48 hours to develop.


Ringworm is caused by a fungus. See Answer

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically Reviewed on 3/15/2022
Image Source: iStock Images