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How Common Household Chemicals Can Cause Irritant Contact Dermatitis

Medically reviewed by Martha Juco, MD · Aesthetics

Written by Jason Inocencio · Updated Feb 24, 2023

    How Common Household Chemicals Can Cause Irritant Contact Dermatitis

    Contact dermatitis is a red, itchy rash caused by direct contact with a substance or an allergic reaction to it. Irritant contact dermatitis, however, is a non-allergic skin reaction. Although the rash is not contagious nor life-threatening, the condition can be very uncomfortable to whoever is suffering from it.

    Several substances can trigger contact dermatitis, not limited to plants, fragrances, cosmetics, soaps, and even jewelry. Any of these and other substances that one is exposed to that then triggers an allergic reaction or irritates the skin causes contact dermatitis.

    The most common type is irritant contact dermatitis (ICD), a non-allergic skin reaction that happens when a substance damages the skin’s outer protective layer.  As mentioned earlier, several common household products can cause irritant contact dermatitis. In some cases, a single exposure is all that is needed to trigger a reaction. And in others, repeated exposure to mild irritants can cause symptoms to even mild irritants.

    irritant contact dermatitis

    What Triggers Irritant Contact Dermatitis

    Among the most common irritants are the following:

    • Solvents
    • Drain cleaners
    • Rubbing alcohol
    • Bleach and detergents
    • Shampoos or permanent wave solutions
    • Fertilizers and pesticides
    • Plants
    • Airborne substances such as sawdust or wool dust 

    Irritant contact dermatitis can also occur when the skin comes in contact too often with less irritating materials like soap or even water.

    ICD Frequency at Work

    A study from 1990 to 1999 noted that the highest ICD annual incidence rates were found in hairdressers (46.9 per 10 000 workers per year), bakers (23.5 per 10 000 workers per year), and pastry cooks (16.9 per 10 000 workers per year). At the same time, ICD was the main diagnosis of occupational skin disease (OSD) in pastry cooks (76%), cooks (69%), food processing industry workers and butchers (63%), mechanics (60%), and locksmiths, and automobile mechanics (59%).

    The results of a questionnaire showed frequent skin contact with detergents (52%), disinfectants (24%), and acidic and alkaline chemicals (24%) in the workplace.

    Complications in chronic ICD may result from secondary sensitization to environmental allergens. To treat and prevent ICD, individuals need to identify and avoid irritants. They can also reduce skin contact through the usage of gloves or other similar measures. Avoiding the offending substance usually sees the rash clearing up in two to four weeks.

    Treating Irritant Contact Dermatitis

    Most cases of contact dermatitis go away on their own once the substance is no longer in contact with the skin. Among the ways to treat ICD, the following can be considered:

    • Avoid scratching the irritated part of the skin. Scratching will more than likely make the irritation worse or even cause a skin infection that requires antibiotics. Although scratching can offer a few seconds of relief, the infection that can result ultimately makes things worse.
    • Read labels to know exactly what chemicals are in the product you are using. And make sure to avoid products that contain ingredients that resulted in a bad reaction previously.
    • Clean your skin with mild soap and lukewarm water to remove any irritants.
    • Stop using any products you think might be causing the problem.
    • Apply bland petroleum jelly like Vaseline to soothe the area.
    • Try using anti-itch treatments and topical medications and skin care products such as calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream (Cortisone-10).
    • If needed, take an antihistamine drug such as diphenhydramine to cut down on itching and to reduce your allergic response.

    If the rash is close to the eyes or mouth, however, or if it covers a large area of the body or does not improve with home treatment, medical attention would be advisable.

    Though irritant contact dermatitis can be triggered by substances around the household, there are ways to avoid and prevent it. Becoming aware of these methods can go a long way in ensuring a safer and less troublesome life for those dealing with this condition.

    Learn more about Dermatitis here.


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

    Medically reviewed by

    Martha Juco, MD


    Written by Jason Inocencio · Updated Feb 24, 2023

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