Contact Dermatitis

Expert care for skin allergies

Home, work, or recreational environments can expose individuals to chemicals or other conditions that may cause reactions to the skin. These reactions usually appear as an eczema-like rash, called contact dermatitis. Because the exact cause of a rash or inflammation may not be clear, we use diagnostic tests, most commonly patch testing, to identify the cause of the problem.

There are several thousand potential allergens in the environment, but only a small percentage account for the majority of skin reactions. Typical allergens are preservatives and fragrances in cosmetic products, textile dyes, rubber additives, and topical medicaments. Our dermatologists will evaluate your rash and help you understand your skin's reactions so that you can avoid the allergens that cause you trouble.

Types of Contact Dermatitis

  • Irritant contact dermatitis is caused by the direct contact of a caustic chemical or detergent to the skin. This may occur more in occupations where frequent hand washing or handling of chemicals is necessary. These chemicals mechanically break down the skin’s natural barrier and provoke an inflammatory reaction. Irritant reactions affect the hands most commonly but any area of the body may be affected.
  • Allergic contact dermatitis results from the body’s immune system recognizing a chemical as foreign and subsequently mounting an inflammatory response directed toward that substance. It may take only minute quantities of an allergen touching the skin to provoke a reaction. A typical example of allergic contact dermatitis would be the reaction one sees to poison ivy. It is estimated that there are over 3,000 allergens in our environment to which one can develop an allergy. Allergic reactions may localize around the eyes, mouth, hands, or sometimes all over the body.

Patch Testing

ColumbiaDoctors Dermatology offers a wide range of services including patch testing for the diagnosis and management of allergic contact dermatitis in children and adults. Patch testing involves placing low concentrations of specific allergens on a patient's back and observing the area for a skin reaction. This is not the same as scratch or prick testing, which is used to diagnose an urticarial (hives) type of allergic reaction.

Each patient will receive a detailed evaluation regarding environmental and occupational exposures, and a full selection of common and occupational allergens to be tested on the skin.


Herbert Irving Pavilion, 12th Floor
161 Fort Washington Ave.
New York, NY 10032

ColumbiaDoctors Midtown
51 W. 51st St., Suite 390
New York, NY 10019