Dermatitis is a general term for conditions that cause inflammation of the skin. Examples include atopic dermatitis (eczema), contact dermatitis and seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff). These conditions cause red rashes, dry skin and itchiness among other symptoms. Your dermatitis can be managed by your regular healthcare provider or by a dermatologist. Dermatitis causes no serious harm to your body. It is not contagious, and it does not mean that your skin is unclean or infected. There are treatment methods and medications that can manage your symptoms.

Symptoms of dermatitis

The symptoms of dermatitis range from mild to severe and will look different depending on what part of the body is affected. Symptoms will vary on the type of dermatitis causing them, although they can often be difficult to distinguish.
In general, the symptoms of dermatitis may include:

  • rashes
  • blisters
  • dry, cracked skin
  • itchy skin
  • painful skin, with stinging or burning
  • swelling
Dermatitis also causes skin discoloration. However, this will appear differently on different skin tones. On darker skin, dermatitis rashes will typically appear gray, purple, or a shade darker than your normal skin tone. On lighter skin, dermatitis patches will typically appear pink or red.
Causes of dermatitis

The causes of dermatitis vary depending on the type. However, environmental triggers can often be the reason for specific flare-ups. The trigger is what causes your skin to have a reaction. It could be a substance, your environment, or something happening in your body.

Common triggers that cause dermatitis to flare include:
  • Stress
  • hormonal changes
  • the environment
  • irritating substances

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis occurs when you come in direct contact with an irritant or allergen. Common materials that cause allergic reactions include:

  • detergents
  • cosmetics
  • nickel
  • poison ivy and oak

Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is often the result of a combination of factors like dry skin, environmental setting, and bacteria on the skin. Triggers of atopic dermatitis vary between people, but stress, irritants, and hormonal changes are common factors. Other factors that can trigger atopic dermatitis include an increased intake of sugar, dairy, and red meat in some cases. A family history of atopic dermatitis can also increase your chance of developing the condition.

Seborrheic dermatitis

The exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis is unknown. However, it may be the result of an inflammatory reaction to Malassezia yeast, a naturally occurring organism on the skin. Certain conditions can increase your risk of seborrheic dermatitis. These include:

  • HIV
  • psoriasis
  • epilepsy
  • rosacea
  • Parkinson’s disease
Seborrheic dermatitis can first occur during puberty for many people and can be worse during this time.

Stasis dermatitis

Stasis dermatitis occurs due to poor circulation in the body. Typically, small valves in your blood veins will weaken, reducing your blood flow back to the heart, and causing fluid to build up in your extremities. This fluid then causes swelling around the affected area. Stasis dermatitis then occurs in these areas of swollen skin. Because poor blood flow is most common in the lower legs, this is the most common site of stasis dermatitis. However, it can occur anywhere.