Contact Dermatitis of the Hands: Is It Irritant or Allergic?

Cutis. 2021 Mar;107(3):129-132. doi: 10.12788/cutis.0204.


Hand contact dermatitis is common, and irritant contact dermatitis (ICD) is more likely than allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) in both occupational and nonoccupational settings. Irritant contact dermatitis can have acute and chronic presentations, and hand hygiene products can contribute. The most common relevant hand contact allergens in North American patch test populations are methylisothiazolinone (MI), nickel, formaldehyde, quaternium-15, and fragrance mix I. In health care workers, rubber accelerators often are relevant as potential contact allergens. Clinically, it can be difficult to differentiate between ICD and ACD, and patch testing often is required for definitive diagnosis. When patch testing is indicated, supplemental allergen series in addition to a screening series often are needed. Management of hand contact dermatitis requires gentle skin care, avoidance of irritants and/ or allergens when appropriate, and prescription topical or systemic therapies or phototherapy when indicated.

MeSH terms

  • Allergens
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact* / diagnosis
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact* / etiology
  • Dermatitis, Irritant* / diagnosis
  • Dermatitis, Irritant* / etiology
  • Dermatitis, Occupational*
  • Humans
  • Irritants / adverse effects
  • Patch Tests


  • Allergens
  • Irritants