Dermatitis: Types, symptoms, and treatment

Dermatitis is an umbrella term for several different skin conditions. It has a variety of symptoms, including:

  • raw skin
  • red patches on light skin
  • brown, purple, or gray patches on darker skin
  • dry skin
  • rashes
  • blisters
  • itchiness
  • painful, stinging, or burning skin
  • swelling

There are several types of dermatitis. Below are the most common ones.


Dandruff, or seborrheic dermatitis, is a common condition that affects the scalp. It causes small pieces of dry skin to flake off, and it may also lead to itchiness on the scalp.

Dandruff affects around 55% of the global population. It often occurs alongside a number of other types of dermatitis.

It develops in areas of the body with hair, most commonly in the scalp, face, and chest.

The causes of dandruff are complex. Hygiene factors do not play a large part in the condition, but unwashed hair can cause it to become more obvious. In addition, not washing excess oils off the skin can feed the yeast on the skin, allowing them to grow further and exacerbate the condition.

Certain medical conditions can also increase a person’s chance of having seborrheic dermatitis. These include:

Dandruff has links with various factors. These include:

  • age
  • weather
  • stress
  • medical conditions
  • hair products

Symptoms of dandruff

The main symptom of dandruff is dry and flaky skin on the scalp. It can also cause a person’s head to become itchy.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a common skin condition that affects 15–20% of people.

Contact dermatitis causes burning or stinging skin, along with other symptoms. These symptoms only arise after a person comes into contact with a particular substance, agent, or product.

There are two types of contact dermatitis: allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) and irritant contact dermatitis (ICD).

Triggers of contact dermatitis

ICD is the more common of the two types, making up 80% of all contact dermatitis cases. The most common substances that trigger ICD include:

  • soaps
  • detergents
  • acids
  • bases
  • solvents
  • saliva
  • urine
  • stool

ACD is common in people who are sensitive to specific substances. Common substances that can trigger ACD include:

  • cosmetics
  • medicines
  • dyes
  • latex
  • gold or nickel jewelry
  • certain foods
  • rubber
  • poison ivy

Symptoms of contact dermatitis

Symptoms of ACE and ICD are very similar. They may include:

  • blistered skin
  • cracked skin
  • swollen skin
  • stiff or tight feeling skin
  • ulcers
  • open sores
  • crusted skin
  • dry skin
  • scaly or flaky skin
  • hives
  • patches of red skin in people with lighter skin
  • patches of brown, purple, or gray in people with darker skin
  • extreme itchiness
  • a burning sensation
  • sensitivity to sun

A person may wish to bring their hygiene and grooming products with them when consulting with a doctor. A healthcare professional may be able to determine what might be causing the contact dermatitis.

Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is a long-lasting skin disease that often causes itchiness in the skin. It is often called eczema.

There are several different types of eczema, with atopic dermatitis being the most common.

Atopic dermatitis usually begins in childhood. However, older adults can also get it. It is a common condition that affects 1 in 10 Americans.

The disease often flares up, which causes symptoms to appear or become worse. However, at other times, the skin can show signs of improvement or even clear up entirely.

Symptoms of atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis causes the skin to become inflamed, irritated, and sometimes very itchy.

If a person with atopic dermatitis scratches their skin, it can trigger the following additional symptoms in the skin:

  • red patches in light skin
  • brown, purple, or gray patches in darker skin
  • swelling
  • cracking
  • clear fluid or weeping sores
  • scabs that form crusts
  • scaling

Dyshidrotic dermatitis

Dyshidrotic dermatitis is a type of eczema. It causes small blisters to appear on the fingers and the palms of the hands. It can also appear on the soles of the feet.

It can last for 3–4 weeks before clearing up. While it can occur just once, it may develop into a chronic condition in some people.

Similar to other types of eczema, dyshidrotic dermatitis can present in flare-ups. However, once a person identifies the triggering substance, they can avoid coming into contact with them.

The following triggers can cause dyshidrotic dermatitis flare-ups:

  • shampoo or soap
  • nickel or cobalt in jewelry and cell phones
  • household chemicals
  • cosmetic products or perfume
  • certain foods

Symptoms of dyshidrotic dermatitis

Dyshidrotic dermatitis symptoms include:

  • itching and burning of the skin on the hands and fingers
  • small blisters on the palms and fingers
  • blisters weeping a clear fluid

If this condition becomes severe, the blisters may become large and spread to the backs of the hands, feet, and other parts of the body.

Cradle cap

Cradle cap is a common condition that affects infants. It often appears during the first few months of life.

Cradle cap appears in the form of a greasy, scaly rash in patches on the scalp. It can also have a yellowish appearance.

The condition is generally safe and rarely causes discomfort for the infant.

However, doctors do not know what causes it, but hygiene factors, allergies, and bacterial infections are not contributing factors.

Cradle cap also has other names, including pityriasis capitis, infantile seborrheic dermatitis, crusta lactea, honeycomb disease, and milk crust.

Symptoms of cradle cap

The main symptoms of cradle cap are greasy or scaly patches on areas such as the scalp, the external ear, and the center of the face. These patches of affected skin often have a yellow color.

Diaper rash

Diaper rash is the general term for any rash that appears on the area of skin a diaper covers.

Moisture and irritation from the diaper can often trigger a rash.

Diaper rash is the most common skin disorder in infants. It affects up to 25% of infants and toddlers. It is most common in infants aged 9–12 months.

In some infants, the diaper itself may be causing the rash. In this case, the diaper rash is often a form of ICD.

It may also occur due to other skin conditions, such as:

Symptoms of diaper rash

The main symptoms of diaper rash are:

  • red skin in the diaper region
  • areas of skin becoming slightly lighter or darker than usual
  • tender skin
  • the infant may seem more uncomfortable than usual
  • the infant may cry or fuss during diaper changes or when washing or touching the diaper area

Diaper rash may also indicate that one of the above medical conditions is affecting the infant.

A parent or caregiver should speak with a doctor if the infant has severe diaper rash that cracks open and bleeds. They should also seek medical help if the infant’s diaper rash does not improve with home treatment.


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