Dermatitis or Herpes: What Makes One Distinct From Another?

    Dermatitis or Herpes: What Makes One Distinct From Another?

    When a red rash kicks in, people easily associate it with the most common type of skin infection – dermatitis. But more often than not, it could mean something else, especially when it involves other causes or triggers. This article helps you distinguish whether it is dermatitis or herpes that is shown through the following characterization.

    Dermatitis or Herpes: Definition


    While it is true that dermatitis is a broad term that refers to any type of skin inflammation, it still brings differential characteristics from that of another skin condition, such as herpes.

    Dermatitis has several types which include the following:

    • Atopic dermatitis (eczema)
    • Contact dermatitis
    • Seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff, cradle cap)
    • Diaper dermatitis (rash)
    • Dyshidrotic dermatitis
    • Perioral/Periorificial dermatitis
    • Stasis dermatitis
    • Neurodermatitis
    • Nummular dermatitis

    Moreover, it also has a variety of causes and manifestations, but the most common ones are itchy dry skin, and red rashes. Alternatively, it may cause the skin to blister, ooze, crust, or flake off.

    Herpes, on the other hand, anchors a group of viruses that form painful blisters and lesions on the skin. The most common ones are herpes zoster and herpes simplex virus. The former causes the appearance of chickenpox and shingles, whereas the latter has two different types: type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2).

    Type 1 (oral herpes) often displays symptoms like cold sores or fever blisters. Meanwhile, type 2 (genital herpes) is characterized by genital sores (sexual organs). However, having both type 2 on the genitals and type 1 around the mouth is also plausible.

    Dermatitis or Herpes: Causes

    One can characterize dermatitis if you came in contact with an irritant that causes an allergic reaction. Oftentimes, these reactions may show up due to poison ivy, perfumes, lotions, or jewelry made of nickel.

    Dry skin, a viral infection, bacteria, stress, genetic composition, and immune system concerns are some of the other reasons for dermatitis.

    • Exposure. Chemicals and other substances can induce some types of dermatitis.
    • Environmental factors. Your immune system may modify your skin’s protective barrier as a result of your surroundings. Consequently, more moisture escapes, which can contribute to dermatitis. Exposure to tobacco smoking and other air pollutants are some possible environmental causes.
    • Genetics. According to studies, if someone in your family has dermatitis, you’re more likely to get it as well. Further research also explains the reason behind such genetic changes through the discovery of a protein. This protein is responsible for helping your body maintain good skin.
    • Immune system. Your immune system can sometimes react to seemingly little irritants or allergens if you have atopic dermatitis. As a result, it could cause inflammation in the said area.

    Your age, occupation, and other health conditions are common risk factors for dermatitis.

    As mentioned, herpes is a common viral infection that a person can get through the specific herpes simplex viruses HSV-1 and HSV-2.

    It is common for infants or children to get type 1 from contact with an adult who also has it. The adult can infect another person without having visible sores. On the other hand, a person can contract the second type of virus through sexual contact.

    Dermatitis or Herpes: Symptoms

    Signs and symptoms of any skin infection may exhibit differently from person to person, but some common ones for dermatitis are as follows:

    • Itchiness
    • Dry skin
    • Flaking skin (like dandruff)
    • Thickened skin
    • Rashes on swollen skin (varies in color depending on your skin color)
    • Blisters (sometimes with oozing and crusting)
    • Bumps in hair follicles

    The herpes virus may infect people but they may not see or feel anything from it. A person may experience the following if signs or symptoms eventually arise:

    • Tingling, itching, or burning sensation
    • Painful sores
    • Urinating problems
    • Vaginal discharge
    • Tender lumps in the groin area
    • Flu-like symptoms
    • Eye infection

    Your doctor will be the one to confirm whether or not you have contracted the virus.

    Dermatitis or Herpes: Communicability

    Although it can make you feel self-conscious and uncomfortable, dermatitis is a non-contagious skin condition.

    However, herpes is a different case. The virus that causes genital herpes is most commonly transmitted through vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse. A break in your skin can allow the virus to enter your body. It can also get into your body through the skin of your mouth, your penis, your vaginal opening, your urinary tract opening, or your anus.

    When blisters or sores are visible on the individual, herpes is most likely to spread from person to person. It can, however, be spread at any moment, even if the individual with herpes is symptom-free.

    Herpes can also be transmitted from one part of the body to the next. You can spread the infection to your fingers if you touch sores on your genitals. You can then spread it to other parts of your body, such as your mouth or eyes.

    Key Takeaway

    It is only your doctor who can make a clear distinction and differential diagnosis for dermatitis and herpes. Consult your doctor if you suspect yourself to have either one of these.

    Learn more about dermatitis here.

    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


    Dermatitis, Accessed November 14, 2021 

    Dermatitis, Accessed November 14, 2021

    Herpes, Accessed November 14, 2021

    Herpes Simplex – Signs and Symptoms, Accessed November 14, 2021

    Genital Herpes – CDC Fact Sheet, Accessed November 14, 2021 

    Picture of the Authorbadge
    Written by Fiel Tugade Updated Nov 17, 2021
    Fact Checked by Kristel Lagorza