Abnormal epidermal barrier in the pathogenesis of contact dermatitis

Clin Dermatol. 2012 May-Jun;30(3):335-44. doi: 10.1016/j.clindermatol.2011.08.019.


A crucial role of the epidermal permeability barrier is obvious in contact dermatitis. An intact skin barrier prevents the penetration of harmful substances into the skin. Irritants and allergens that stay on the skin surface and come into contact with the stratum corneum only do not harm the skin. After disruption of the skin barrier, however, irritants may penetrate into the living epidermal layers, injure the keratinocyte membrane, and release cytokines, which leads to inflammation and to irritant contact dermatitis. The skin barrier is often disrupted by chronic exposure to water plus detergents, solvents, or other irritants. A disrupted barrier in irritant contact dermatitis also allows for the penetration of allergens. Allergens may come into contact with Langerhans and T cells, induce immunological reactions, and cause inflammation, which results in allergic contact dermatitis. Treatments in contact dermatitis should restore the skin barrier to prevent relapse of the disease. Topical corticosteroids, most often used in treating contact dermatitis, reduce immunological reactions and inflammation but do not lead to a complete barrier repair. Skin barrier repair is more complete after treatment with calcineurin inhibitors and bland lipid-based emollient; therefore, these preparations should be preferred for long-term treatment of contact dermatitis.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Allergens / adverse effects
  • Dermatitis, Contact / etiology*
  • Dermatitis, Contact / metabolism
  • Epidermis / metabolism
  • Epidermis / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Irritants / adverse effects
  • Permeability
  • Skin Absorption / drug effects
  • Time Factors


  • Allergens
  • Irritants