The Causes of Contact Dermatitis

Identifying the cause of contact dermatitis is important both in preventing the reaction from recurring in the future and in determining the most appropriate treatment.
The Causes of Contact Dermatitis

Last update: 16 December, 2022

In order to determine the most appropriate treatment, determining the possible causes of contact dermatitis is essential. Parabens and the fragrances in hygiene products and personal care products are some of the most common, but what others must we take into account?

Contact dermatitis is one of the most common skin problems and one of the main reasons for consultation. It’s uncomfortable and has an aesthetic impact that can affect a person’s quality of life to a greater or lesser extent.

The common causes of contact dermatitis

The causes of contact dermatitis can be very diverse, as there’s a wide variety of irritants and allergens. However, there are some that affect people more frequently and, therefore, have been identified as common causes. We’ll go into greater detail below.

Nickel (accessories)

Causes of contact dermatitis include the use of accessories
The use of some accessories whose surface contains nickel could cause some flare-ups of contact dermatitis in those that are predisposed to this disease.

There are several types of accessories that can contain nickel and cause contact dermatitis. From piercings, belt buckles, and hair accessories, to jewelry earrings, rings, and bracelets.

A recent study states that “Sensibility to nickel is a frequent problem, the international literature say that 10% of women and 1% of men are affected“. However, it’s important to note that the boom in piercings may cause these figures to be higher in both sexes.

Occupational exposures

As outlined in the Compendium of Social Security Standards for Work Injuries and Occupational Diseases, people who work as food handlers and processors, hairdressers, estheticians, machinists, and other construction workers are exposed to various substances that can trigger dermatitis.

Proteins of both vegetable or animal origin (latex, flour, meat, fish, vegetables, and others) and chemical substances (present in dyes, nail polishes, nail polish removers, and other similar products) are some of the causes of contact dermatitis in the most common work area.

In general, the areas of the body that contact dermatitis affects the most are usually the hands, but this doesn’t mean that it can’t affect others.


Also among the common causes of contact dermatitis are plants. Some of the most common are poison ivy, mango, poison oak, common nettle, and poison sumac. However, one study shows that there are many more, such as the following:

  • Mucuna pruriens of the legume family
  • Euphorbiaceae (medium cactus plants): spurge, croutons, poinsettia, manzanillo
  • Plants of the mustard and radish families that contain sinigrin glucoside
  • Some members of the daisy family
  • Buttercup
  • The Agave americana L. variety variegata

While it’s often a common problem in gardeners, farmers, florists, and greenhouse workers, homemakers and people who go for walks in the country and outdoors can also suffer from it. Especially when they don’t use the appropriate protective clothing.

Cosmetic and personal care products

Contact dermatitis from the use of cosmetic and personal care products is a common problem. According to the authors of a recent study, while skin hygiene and hydration products are the culprits in most cases, nail and hair cosmetics (such as the aforementioned dyes) are not far behind.

“Fragrances are the most frequent cause of allergies to cosmetics, followed by preservatives and hair dyes; but all components, including natural ingredients, should be considered as potential sensitizers.”

Dyes, sunscreens, nail polishes, and nail polish removers, lotions, creams, perfumes, deodorants, and products (including dental and oral) that may contain the following substances should be especially taken into account:

  • Phenylenediamine
  • Peru balsam
  • Cocamidopropyl betaine
  • Glyceryl thioglycolate
  • Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
  • Acrylates and formaldehyde-based resins

Topical medications

Causes of contact dermatitis include the use of creams
Ironically, some medications or creams can trigger flare-ups of contact dermatitis.

Many topical medications can cause contact dermatitis in certain people. For example, neomycin and bacitracin (which are topical antibiotics) are common culprits, as is hydrocortisone (a corticosteroid).

Anti-itch creams that contain local anesthetics and topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can also trigger the reaction.

Dental and oral products

Metals used in repairs and other dental work (such as gold, mercury, nickel, chromium, cobalt, beryllium, and palladium) can be other causes of contact dermatitis.

The flavorings in mouthwashes, toothpastes, gum, lipsticks, or lip balms should also be considered, as should foods in the Toxicodendron family.

At the same time, although it’s not always possible to check whether the devices of the surgical implants could be responsible for the surgical implants, these are also taken into account.


People with a history of allergies, intolerances, and other similar health problems are considered to be more likely to suffer from contact dermatitis at some point in their life. However, you should bear in mind that each person is influenced by the interactions of both internal and external factors and not just genetics.

Risk factor’s

In addition to the causes we’ve already mentioned, there are certain risk factors that we must also take into account, which are the following:

  • Work environment: People who, for work reasons, must be exposed to various substances are more likely to suffer from contact dermatitis.
  • Use of cosmetics with fragrances and other substances.
  • Lack of adequate protection (such as clothing for outdoor excursions).
  • Contact with detergents and other cleaning products.
  • Contact with construction materials.

Whether you have a history of allergy or contact or atopic dermatitis or not, it’s important that you know what the causes of this problem are so that, if it affects you, you can tell your doctor what could have triggered it. This will be of great help in determining appropriate treatment.

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