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Complementary and Integrative Medicine Approaches to Contact Dermatitis: Allergy Testing and Treatment

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 Complementary and Integrative Medicine Approaches to Contact Dermatitis: Allergy Testing and Treatment

According to the World Allergy Association, 5.7 million physician visits yearly are due to contact dermatitis. This article will discuss what contact dermatitis is, including how long it lasts, its symptoms, and its causes. Integrative labs for contact dermatitis will then be discussed, followed by conventional and integrative treatments, including nutrition and supplementation.


What is Contact Dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is a type of eczema, which is a term used for skin conditions that cause dry and irritated skin. Contact dermatitis is an inflammatory reaction to a chemical on the skin's surface. This condition is seen in all age groups, with more women than men being affected by it.

How Long Does Contact Dermatitis Last?

The duration of contact dermatitis symptoms may vary. Generally, the longer the contact dermatitis goes untreated, the longer it will take to heal. In addition, how fast the offending irritant is identified and removed from the environment will affect how long symptoms of contact dermatitis last.

Symptoms of Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis symptoms can vary depending on the person and the offending substance. Symptoms include:

  • Itchy skin
  • Crusting of skin
  • Scaling skin
  • Inflammation
  • Lesions
  • Blisters that may ooze
  • Increased risk of sunburn
  • Increased risk of irritation from sunscreen

The skin symptoms listed above can be bothersome for many patients. So much so they may affect other areas of life, leading to disturbed sleep, problems concentrating, and difficulty at work or school.

What Causes Contact Dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis consists of three types: allergic contact dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis, and photocontact dermatitis. However, the majority of cases are allergic or irritant contact dermatitis.

Allergic Contact Dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis occurs one to two days after exposure to an allergen. Over 15,000 different allergens, including environmental ones, can induce a reaction. Those who suffer from this form of contact dermatitis have a genetic predisposition making them more sensitive to particular agents. Contact with pet dander can also cause contact dermatitis. As a result of contacting the offending allergen, the body’s immune system is activated and releases immune and inflammatory cells that cause damage to the skin.

Irritant Contact Dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when the offending irritant and inflammatory processes damage skin cells. Irritants include detergents, soaps, bleach, makeup, hair dye, metals (including clothes with metal zippers, buttons, and snaps), fruit juice, fertilizers and pesticides, gasoline, and diesel oils, hand sanitizers, and plants. Wearing scratchy material such as wool can also cause irritant contact dermatitis. Additionally, overwashing hands can cause irritant contact dermatitis, as this action can strip away the skin’s protective barrier. This form of dermatitis is most common in mechanics, custodians, healthcare workers, and hairstylists, as these professions often require working with industrial chemicals.

Photocontact dermatitis

Some allergens can induce a skin reaction on their own, while others need a catalyst like the sun, as in the case of photocontact dermatitis. For example, lemon and lime juice on the skin alone may not cause a reaction, but citrus juice on skin exposed to the sun could.

Integrative Medicine Labs to Test That Can Help Individualize Treatment for Contact Dermatitis Patients

There are many ways to identify allergies, and patch tests are the standard for contact dermatitis. These tests include exposing healthy skin to various allergens via patches to determine which irritants cause a skin reaction. The patches stay on the patient’s skin for up to five days, with skin checks after day three and day five. The presence of a rash will indicate positive results, meaning the individual is allergic to that particular irritant.

These tests are not without limitations. Many patients find it challenging to maintain the patches on their skin for so long, as patients are not allowed to shower, excessively sweat, be in the sun, or wet the site for the duration of the test.

Additionally, blood allergy tests can be performed to determine the root cause of irritation.

88 Antigen IgE Environmental Allergy Test

Infinite Allergy Labs offers the 88 antigen IgE Environmental Allergy test. This test assesses common environmental allergens from molds and fungi, pollens including trees, grasses, weeds, and animals including insects and mites. This test will allow you to easily see if something in the patient's surrounding environment is causing their symptoms.

Pet/Animal Allergen Panel

Allettess Laboratories offers a pet/animal allergen assessment test that checks for an immune response from 14 different animal feathers or dander. Biomarkers include common housepets, including cats, dogs, rabbits, and farm animals, such as cows, goats, and chickens. This test will allow you to identify any pets or animals that should be avoided.

Conventional Treatment for Contact Dermatitis

Conventional treatment often includes topical corticosteroids. But, if the rash covers a large enough surface area, oral corticosteroids may be necessary. Corticosteroids block the inflammatory cascade and result in the improvement of symptoms, especially itching. Antihistamine medications may also be used for allergic contact dermatitis, as they block the allergen-inducing immune cell production.

Integrative Medicine Treatment for Contact Dermatitis

Integrative treatment for contact dermatitis should include removing the offending substances from the person's environment and avoiding contact with known allergens whenever possible. This may involve reviewing beauty products such as lotions, moisturizers, and makeup, and hair care products including shampoos and conditioners, assessing clothing, reviewing different types of laundry detergent, etc. Limiting exposure to the sun’s UV ray’s can also help if patient’s are experiencing photocontact dermatitis or hypersensitivity.  

Another general recommendation for those experiencing contact dermatitis symptoms is to wash new clothing before wearing. This will remove chemicals and dyes that adhere to the material during processing. Additionally, barrier-repair creams can be applied to affected skin after bathing to seal in moisture and help repair damaged skin.

Nutrition for Contact Dermatitis Patients

As mentioned above, inflammation is a factor involved in many of the symptoms seen in contact dermatitis. A low-inflammatory diet like the Mediterranean diet can benefit those experiencing contact dermatitis symptoms. The Mediterranean diet consists of eating healthy fats from nuts, seeds, oils, and fatty fish. An emphasis is also placed on consuming seasonal and locally grown fruits and vegetables in order to maximize nutrient density and promote health benefits. Eliminating processed foods and replacing them with fiber-rich foods like whole grains, beans, and legumes has been proven to reduce inflammation and thus may reduce the severity of symptoms seen in patients.

Supplements and Herbs That Help With Contact Dermatitis

Supplementation of particular vitamins may be beneficial in improving symptoms that aid the body in healing. Below are supplements that have proven effective at treating dermatitis and improving overall skin health.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin primarily retained from the sun’s UV rays. Because of vitamin D’s effect on inflammation, vitamin D may be beneficial for dermatitis. One study assessed vitamin D supplementation in people with allergic and irritant contact dermatitis. Results showed that in participants who were vitamin D deficient, vitamin D supplementation improved the healing of skin conditions compared to those with vitamin D deficiency that was left untreated. These findings suggest that vitamin D supplementation can benefit both allergic and irritant contact dermatitis as it modulates inflammatory pathways and promotes healing.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a role in the formation of healthy skin. Vitamin C is essential for skin health as it is a cell signaling molecule and regulates skin cell growth. Additionally, vitamin C protects the skin from UV light and plays a role in collagen and skin barrier formation. Because of these impacts on skin health, vitamin C has been shown to promote healthy skin growth in patients with allergic contact dermatitis through supplementation or dietary intake.

While the supplements mentioned above may help with dermatitis, it's important to consult with your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms. Many irritants can cause contact dermatitis, and testing is needed to determine the root cause of the problem to ensure it is treated appropriately.

Integrative Dermatology Treatments for Contact Dermatitis

Colloidal oatmeal baths can be used for various skin ailments, including contact dermatitis. Colloidal oats help to form a barrier in the skin, allowing the skin to retain moisture while lowering inflammation. Colloidal oatmeal can be found in commercial preparations or can be made by blending uncooked whole oats into a fine powder. Colloidal oatmeal can be added to a bathtub filled with lukewarm water. It's recommended to soak in the bath for 10-15 minutes and then follow the bath with a soothing moisturizer.

Additionally, colloidal oatmeal can also be used as a cream. One study published by the Journal of Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology assessed 56 people with irritant contact dermatitis. The participants were separated into two groups. During the initial two weeks of the study, both groups received a hydrocortisone cream. After the first two weeks, only one group received a colloidal oatmeal 1% cream, while the other group received a base cream. Symptoms were assessed at baseline and two-week intervals for a total of six weeks. Results showed that both groups responded to the hydrocortisone cream during the first two weeks of treatment. But by the end of the study, the group given the colloidal oatmeal cream had significant improvement in symptoms compared to the group given the base cream.



Contact dermatitis is a common condition that affects people of all ages. Many environmental allergens can cause contact dermatitis, as can numerous personal care and industrial products. Anyone with symptoms that may suggest contact dermatitis should seek medical care to help identify the root cause via a detailed history and integrative medicine testing. Once identified, all irritants should be removed from the environment, and all possible sources of the irritant should be investigated to prevent future contact and symptoms.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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