What Are Common Irritants?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | June 2017 | Last updated: April 2021

Atopic dermatitis (eczema) damages the skin’s natural barrier, which can make it more sensitive to substances in the environment. These are collectively called irritants because of their ability to irritate the skin. Irritants may cause additional redness, itchiness, or a burning sensation.

What are common eczema irritants?

Irritants can be different for each individual with atopic dermatitis. However, some common irritants include:

  • Wool clothing
  • Man-made or synthetic fibers, such as rayon, acrylic, nylon, polyester, spandex, or modacrylic (often used in pajama sets or other sleepwear so that they are flame-resistant)
  • Soaps or bubble bath, particularly those that change the skin’s natural pH
  • Some laundry detergents
  • Cleaning solutions, including dish soap, disinfectants, or surface cleaners
  • Cosmetics
  • Perfumes
  • Chemicals like chlorine, mineral oil, or solvents
  • Dust or sand
  • Cigarette smoke1-3

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Irritant ands contact dermatitis

Both irritant and allergic contact dermatitis can occur in a person with atopic dermatitis, and avoidance of irritants and allergens is critical. In addition, proper diagnosis is important to receive the proper treatment.3

What is irritant contact dermatitis?

Irritant contact dermatitis is another form of dermatitis that occurs when the skin comes in contact with a substance that is irritating, such as detergents, soaps, cleaners, or other chemicals. The skin that is exposed to the irritant becomes red, itchy, and may cause blisters.

What is allergic contact dermatitis? Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the skin develops an allergy to a substance that comes into contact with it. Atopic dermatitis can worsen when exposed to irritants or skin allergens, but the dry, itchy, and scaly patches can occur on the skin without exposure to these triggers as well. Dry skin and eczema irritantsBy damaging the skin’s barrier, atopic dermatitis causes the skin to lose more water than usual, which leads to dry skin. Dry skin can also be a trigger for relapses of flares, which is why regular of use moisturizers to protect and rehydrate the skin is encouraged. Dry skin also makes people with atopic dermatitis more susceptible to irritants, like soaps, chemicals, and some clothing fibers. Treating and preventing dry skin, through the regular use of moisturizers as well as other medications, can help people with atopic dermatitis minimize the effect of irritants.4Managing eczema irritantsIt may take some experimentation, such as switching brands of soaps or laundry detergent, to identify an individual’s personal sensitivity to irritants that trigger their atopic dermatitis.Avoiding eczema irritantsGeneral tips for avoiding irritants include:Wear clothes with natural fibers, like cotton or silkAvoid perfumes and cosmetics with alcoholWear rubber gloves with a cotton lining when doing dishes or wet work, cleaning with detergents, or using other chemicals like solventsChoose non-soap cleansers or avoid soaps with sodium lauryl sulfate, which can irritate the skinAvoid bubble bathAfter bathing, gently pat dry with a towel and moisturize immediately to keep moisture in the skin5

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