February 8, 2022
4 min. read

Dermatitis: Causes, Types, and Treatment


Dermatitis is a general term used to describe irritation of the skin. It’s a common condition that has many different causes, and can occur in many different forms. Common examples include atopic dermatitis (eczema), contact dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis (commonly referred to as cradle cap in infants), and diaper rash. Though irritating and inconvenient, dermatitis is not a contagious skin condition. 

dermatitis symptoms


What are some signs and symptoms? 

Each type of dermatitis will look different and will occur on different parts of the body, though there will usually be some sort of red rash on the skin. 


  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema). Eczema is usually first spotted in infancy as an itchy, red rash that occurs where the skin flexes, in such areas as inside the elbows, behind the knees, or in the front of the neck. The rash may leak fluid when scratched, eventually crusting over. While improvement is possible, you may experience seasonal flare-ups.
  • Contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis results in a red, itchy, and stinging rash that occurs where the skin has come into contact with irritating substances or something skin is allergic to. Over time, the rash may develop blisters. 
  • Seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrheic dermatitis shows up on the skin in scaly patches of red skin, or as dandruff. It usually affects oily areas of the body, such as the face, upper chest, and back. It can be a long term condition, with periods of improvement alternating with occasional flare ups. 

dermatitis remedy

How is it diagnosed? 

To diagnose dermatitis, no lab test is needed. In most cases, your doctor will make a diagnosis after examining your skin and reviewing your medical history. 


How is it treated?

Treatment for dermatitis varies depending on the cause of the condition and your symptoms, but your doctor will most likely prescribe one of the following: 

  • Corticosteroid creams, gels or ointments
  • Creams or ointments that affect your immune system (calcineurin inhibitors)
  • Exposure to natural or artificial light (phototherapy) 
  • Oral corticosteroids or injectable dupilumab

For at-home remedies and the management of dermatitis, you can try the following: 

  • Moisturize the skin.  
  • Use nonprescription anti-inflammation and anti-itch products. To temporarily relieve redness and itching, try an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. Oral antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine, can also help reduce itching. 
  • Apply a cool, wet cloth to your skin. 
  • Take a warm bath using baking soda or colloidal oatmeal. After soaking for 5 to 10 minutes, pat your skin dry and apply unscented moisturizer while your skin is still damp. 
  • Use a medicated shampoo for dandruff. Look for shampoos that contain selenium sulfide, zinc pyrithione, coal tar or ketoconazole. 
  • Take a diluted bleach bath for severe atopic dermatitis. Two to three times a week, add ½ cup household bleach (not concentrated bleach) to a 40 gallon bathtub filled with warm water and soak for 5 to 10 minutes. Rinse off before patting dry.  
  • Take a diluted vinegar bath by adding 1 cup of vinegar to a bathtub filled with warm water. 
  • Avoid rubbing and scratching by covering the itchy area with a dressing. Make sure you keep your nails trimmed, and consider wearing gloves at night to prevent scratching in your sleep. 
  • Wear cotton clothing and avoid wool to prevent further irritation.
  • Use a mild laundry detergent. 
  • Manage stress, which can trigger flare ups, by trying stress management techniques like meditation or biofeedback. Biofeedback is a method used in alternative medicine that teaches you to change the way your body functions. During a biofeedback session, a practitioner uses monitoring equipment and instruments to measure your body’s functions, which you then use to learn how to create physiologic changes. With education and practice, you can learn to make those bodily changes without equipment. 

dermatitis signs

What are some ways to help mitigate the symptoms of dermatitis? 

  • Know your triggers, such as sun, heat, or sweat. 
  • Exercise regularly, which can reduce symptoms and stress.   
  • Communicate with your healthcare team. Be proactive in letting your doctor and other health care experts know what is and isn’t helping with your skin condition. 
  • Get a massage. Massage can help not only to reduce stress, but can help work moisture deep into the skin. 
  • Know your oils. While oils can be a great help in providing your skin with moisture, different oils have different properties. Knowing what works best with your skin condition can help with treatment. 


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