dermatitis on hands

Understanding Dermatitis Types

Dermatitis refers to a specific condition of the skin as a direct result of a particular irritant. There are several different types of dermatitis, all of which refer to the development of an itchy, red rash, sometimes with blisters. Here is a look at the different types of dermatitis. 

Kinds of Dermatitis

Three of the more common types of dermatitis include atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and seborrheic dermatitis; they’re classified as eczema. Neurodermatitis and perioral dermatitis are also categorized as eczemas, while stasis dermatitis is more of an acne/eczema combination. 

Neurodermatitis, or “lichen simplex chronicus” erupts in a specific area from extensive scratching. It appears as a discolored and scaly rash. Stasis dermatitis is an itchy rash that develops on the ankles and may turn into a series of oozing open sores. It is caused by circular disorders (like varicose veins) that result in a fluid build up that prevents sufficient oxygen from reaching the legs. Perioral dermatitis is a series of pus filled bumps that occur around (peri-) the mouth (-oral), likely from corticosteroid sprays and creams. 

Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis (or common eczema) is a chronic inflammatory rash caused by an overreaction of the immune system. It tends to appear more often in those with a family history of hay fever or asthma, which together create the “atopic triad.” The neck and softer part of the knees and elbows are more likely to break out in an atopic dermatitis rash. Additionally, these rashes are generally not constantly present, but rather come in spurts—flaring up for a while and then receding—starting in infancy. In appearance, atopic rashes tend to be red, scaly, and dry patches of skin that itch intensely. During extremely bad break outs, the areas may even develop oozing sores. 

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis refers to types of dermatitis that develop because of the skin’s contact with an irritating substance—the most common types are allergic and irritant contact dermatitis. In the case of allergic contact dermatitis, sensitivity (or allergy) to a given substance results in an immune system reaction that produces a red rash that may itch or burn fiercely and even develop small, pus-filled blisters that can ooze and crust. Some swelling may be present. Any part of the body can be subject to allergic contact dermatitis; for example, allergic contact dermatitis from poison ivy tends to occur on the extremities, while a reaction to a chemical in make up would likely occur on the face. It can take multiple exposures over a period of time before a rash appears. Contact urticaria is more rare, but potentially more serious. More commonly known as hives, it carries a chance of coinciding anaphylactic shock. 

Irritant contact dermatitis can also appear anywhere on the skin. Rather than a specific sensitivity, however, irritant type is because the substance itself is irritating (like bleach or acid-based chemicals) or because of prolonged contact even with generally harmless substances (like diaper rash or extensive hand washing).  The rash appears as a red splotch with small bumps and may develop dry, burn-like spots. Itching, burning, or stinging sensations will likely accompany it. When contact occurs because of working conditions, this is considered occupational contact dermatitis. Photoallergic contact dermatitis occurs when the rash doesn’t appear until the substance is exposed to sunlight.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis (or seborrheic eczema) can be a chronic condition; in infants, it’s called cradle cap and tends to clear up after a few months. Largely a scalp issue, it may appear in other oily areas as well—like the upper back or nose. Fungal microorganisms play a role in its development, which means antifungal medications can help clear up symptoms. The affected skin may be red, oily, and itchy; yellow dandruff-like flakes or crusting may occur. 

Last Updated: November 21, 2021