Irritant contact dermatitis 2020-11-27T16:26:42+00:00

Irritant Contact Dermatitis

What is irritant contact dermatitis?

Irritant contact dermatitis (ICD) is a reaction that takes place when the skin is exposed to a chemical or harmful substance. The most common occurrence of ICD is on the scalp and hands of people who frequently use detergents and water, often through their work.

What causes it?

Lengthy exposure to detergents or water can remove the natural oils of the outer layers of the skin and cause irritation.

In addition, if a damaging agent, such as a chemical, penetrates the protective outer layers of skin, it comes into contact with the inner cells and tissues. The body reacts by attempting to neutralise the invading agent and repair the damage, resulting in the symptoms of ICD.

Examples of substances that can cause ICD include shampoos, relaxers, hair dyes, tints and other hair treatments.

Symptoms and signs

The symptoms of ICD are typically soreness, redness and inflammation of the affected area. The skin may also be cracked, dry and even weeping with fluid in some areas.


ICD is a temporary skin reaction. It usually calms when the damaging substance is removed from the skin. Damaged skin caused by mild ICD can be treated with emollient cream, which makes the skin softer and/or with moisturising cream. More serious conditions, where the skin is inflamed, may be treated by the application of steroid cream.

Why see a trichologist?

A trichologist will examine the skin and take a history of the condition. They will be able to help identify the cause or causes of the condition, and advise the client on what substances to avoid, and how to take preventative measures to guard against future attacks.

More facts

ICD is a common hazard in professions such as hairdressing, healthcare, engineering and construction, and food preparation. ICD should not be confused with allergic contact dermatitis, although the symptoms may be similar.

Allergic contact dermatitis is caused by the body’s reaction to a substance (known as an allergen) to which it has become sensitised. Whereas there are some treatment options for ICD, the only treatment for allergic contact dermatitis is to remove the harmful substance and ensure the body is not exposed to it in the future.


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