Dry, itchy, irritated skin. How to tell if you are suffering from dermatitis?

Dry, itchy, irritated skin. How to tell if you are suffering from dermatitis?

Have you been suffering from dry, itchy, red patches of skin for days, which don’t seem to go away?

Then you are probably experiencing a type of  dermatitis or eczema (a skin disease characterized by intense itching, which then develops into a rash).

If this is the case, don’t even think about just trying some home remedy and hoping that it goes away on its own. Your best option is to talk to your doctor who can refer you to a dermatologist who will then prescribe you a suitable treatment depending on the type of dermatitis you have.

That’s right, there a several different types of dermatitis that you could be suffering from:

Atopic dermatitis

This is the most common type of dermatitis and first appears when you are a child. It may improve or disappear completely as you get older. You are more likely to suffer from atopic dermatitis if your parents have a history of this condition.

The atopic triad: 3 allergic diseases that usually occur around the same time in children: atopic dermatitis, asthma and hay fever.

This type of dermatitis usually appears during certain seasons. Here are some external factors that can trigger atopic dermatitis:

  • Dry or cold climates, or following an extreme temperature change.
  • Certain detergents, soaps, creams or perfumes.
  • Dust
  • Pet´s dander or saliva
  • Certain fabrics like wool or synthetic fabrics

What does atopic dermatitis look like?

Patches of dry skin that can cause itching, redness or inflammation, usually behind the knees or inside the elbows, on the face and the wrists. If you scratch them too often, they may become infected.

Contact dermatitis

Have you ever changed your laundry detergent and noticed that you skin has started to itch? You may be experiencing contact dermatitis. This is a reaction that is triggered when the skin is exposed to certain substances.

Did you know that contact dermatitis can develop after one or several exposures to a substance?

If you have this type of dermatitis, then you are very sensitive to certain chemical or natural substances. Just by touching them and then bringing your hand to your face or to other parts of the body, causes irritation to appear.

This type of dermatitis is very common in children, especially newborns. The most common substances that trigger this type of dermatitis are:

  • Detergents
  • Bleaches
  • Soaps
  • Perfumes
  • Metals in jewellery
  • Latex
  • Nickel
  • Dyes
  • Plants like poison ivy
  • Solvents
  • Herbicides
  • Certain ingredients found in beauty products (creams, makeup, hair dyes, shampoo, etc.)

What does contact dermatitis look like?

After coming into contact with the substances listed above, you notice dryness, redness and itching of the skin. You may also feel a burning sensation in the affected area, or even hives.  There are two types of contact dermatitis:

  • Irritant contact dermatitis (caused by continuous contact with substances that irritate the skin)
  • Allergic contact dermatitis (the immune system rejects the substance applied to the skin and triggers an allergic reaction)

Stasis dermatitis

If you suffer from circulation problems in the veins in your legs (varicose) and these become inflamed, this is called stasis dermatitis. It is caused by a stagnation of normal blood circulation and inflammation of blood vessels with poor blood flow.

This type of dermatitis is not as common and it occurs when fluid and blood cells seep out of the veins into the skin and other tissues, causing inflammation, redness, itching and pain.

Stasis dermatitis is also known as venous or gravitational dermatitis. It is more common in elderly people with varicose vein problems.

Getting older and living a sedentary lifestyles takes a serious toll on the body and can significantly weaken the veins in the legs. When blood does not flow normally from the legs to the upper part of the body, they form pockets known as varicose veins.

What does stasis dermatitis look like?

Legs may become swollen, especially after walking for a long period of time or after sitting for too long. Blisters or small red spots may appear, along with dry, scaly skin that can become very thin, fragile and easily damaged from scratching.

Dyshidrotic dermatitis

Usually appears on the fingers, palms of the hands or soles of the feet, and may be related to another type of dermatitis, such as atopic or contact dermatitis. It is also known as pompholyx or vesicular eczema and is more common in adults under the age of 40.

Pompholyx comes from the Greek pompholix, which means blister.

The causes of this type of dermatitis are not entirely clear, but it is associated with the following factors:

  • Hay fever
  • Atopic dermatitis or a family history of atopic dermatitis
  • Fungal skin infection
  • Working with certain chemical products
  • Emotional stress
  • Carrying out activities that require you to keep your hands submerged in water
  • Changes in climate

What does dyshidrotic dermatitis look like?

Small blisters form between the fingers, on the palms of the hand or soles of the feet. It is possible for the blisters to get bigger and fill with fluid. If you have this type of dermatitis, be careful with these blisters, as they can become infected and cause pain and swelling.

Nummular dermatitis

This type of dermatitis can occur at any age and, although its causes are unknown, it is believed to be caused by insect bites, dryness or other skin irritations

It is also known as discoid eczema.

The word  “nummular”, comes from the Latin word for coin.

Here are some factors that have been known to trigger this type of dermatitis:

  • Poor circulation
  • Low temperatures
  • Bacterial skin infections
  • Certain medications
  • Sensitivity to certain metals
  • Having atopic dermatitis

What does nummular dermatitis look like?

Nummular dermatitis is characterized by light-colored, almost white, oval (or coin-shaped) spots on the skin surrounded by a red raised border. The center of these spots is often very dry. This type of dermatitis usually affects the knees, torso and forearms.

These spots usually cause itching, redness, irritation or inflammation. If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is important that you see a specialist to verify whether you do have nummular dermatitis, as it can be confused with a fungal infection.

Seborrheic dermatitis

This type of dermatitis appears in the parts of the body where the sebaceous glands produce the most oil, which are:

  • upper back
  • nose
  • scalp

Sebum is the natural oil produced by the skin. It acts as a natural moisturizer and is produced by the sebaceous glands and released through the hair follicles.

Contrary to other types of dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis is not caused by an allergy. Its exact causes are still unknown, but it is believed to be caused by microorganisms that live on the skin naturally. Genes and hormones are also contributing factors.  

What does seborrheic dermatitis look like?

It appears in the form of dry scales (dandruff) or greasy yellow scales and red, inflamed areas. It can also cause itching, burning or pink patches on the skin.

Although it can appear at any age, it is more common among adults between the ages of 30 and 60. It also occurs in babies under 3 months and is known as cradle cap.

Asteatotic dermatitis

This is a type of skin inflammation that occurs over a long period of time (chronic), due to prolonged, severe dryness.

If you like to taking long baths with all different kinds of soaps and scented products, you may want to reconsider, since these are factors that are associated with this type of dermatitis .

Using a lot of soap can remove your skin’s natural moisture layer, leaving it exposed to asteatotic dermatitis.  

Since it is caused by dry skin, adults over the age of 60 are more likely to suffer from this condition. Other factors that increase your chances of suffering from asteatotic dermatitis are:

  • Dry and cold climates
  • Long, hot baths
  • Soaps and other detergents
  • Excessive daily cleaning or scrubbing of the skin
  • Using a very rough towel to dry the skin

What does asteatotic dermatitis look like?

This type of dermatitis appears on the lower legs (behind the knees) and skin looks dry and cracked, with pink or red lines. It causes pain and itching that leads to scratching, which is not recommended as it can increase the risk of infection.

What should you do if you think you have a type of dermatitis?

If you are experiencing symptoms that correspond to a type of dermatitis mentioned above, you should see your doctor to obtain a diagnosis and ensure you receive suitable treatment.

If necessary, your doctor may refer you to a skin specialist or dermatologist.

Before seeing a dermatologist, it would be useful to make note of the following:

  • Anything you ate or drank in the last few weeks that was out of your ordinary diet.
  • Products you apply to your skin every day and the brand (soaps, creams, lotions or makeup) and whether you made any changes to your skincare routine recently or around the time that skin irritation appeared.
  • Products that you use to wash your clothes (detergents, softeners, etc.)
  • Activities that you carry out everyday (walking through the park with lots of trees, swimming in a chlorine pool, using dyes, etc.).
  • How long you spend in the shower and the temperature of the water.
  • What state were you in when the skin irritation started, e.g. were you stressed?

This is like a diary that will help your dermatologist examine your daily routine to determine the possible causes of your skin issues.

How to treat dermatitis?

As well as the medication and instructions from your dermatologist, so long as you do not have any open wounds, you could also try the following suggestions to help treat your dermatitis:

To soothe itching

  • Avoid scratching by wetting a clean cloth in cold water and placing it on the skin
  • Oat baths (soak the oats for several hours, then place a clean cloth in the water and apply on the affected area)
  • Bicarbonate of soda baths (add 5 tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda in 1 liter of water and wash the affected areas, then rinse with water)

To care for your skin

  • Apply natural oil-based creams to the skin daily (lavender, rosemary, salvia or thyme) to help form a protective barrier on the skin.
  • Apply creams immediately after showering to seal in the moisture.
  • Use a soft towel to pat your skin dry and avoid rubbing.
  • Use gloves and protective clothing when handling chemical substances.
  • Wear loose clothes made of soft fabrics, like cotton.

Did you know that CBD (medical marijuana) can help with dermatitis?

Medicinal cannabis has healing properties that can be of great use for treating diseases like dermatitis.

Cannabidiol (CBD), one of the active compounds in this plant, reduces inflammation by regulating the production of cytokines, especially in allergic contact dermatitis.

Additionally, studies have shown that it reduces serotonin, a chemical substance that affects your mood and can also cause dry skin (xerosis). The drier your skin, the itchier it will be.

CBD can also increase the production of collagen in the skin, which is responsible for skin elasticity and protects against skin cancer, such as melanoma.

Do you know someone with dermatitis? Share this article with a loved one and help them learn more about their condition.


Anti-inflammatory Properties of Cannabidiol, a Nonpsychotropic Cannabinoid, in Experimental Allergic Contact Dermatitis The journal of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics

The role of cannabinoids in dermatology  Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology

What is nummular eczema – nummular dermatitis – discoid eczema? National Eczema Association