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How Long Does Contact Dermatitis Last? Your Need-to-Know Guide

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The first time I experienced contact dermatitis, I had no idea what was happening. I woke up one morning and my entire face around my mouth was inflamed in a swollen blistery rash. It only got progressively worse as the day wore on, and I finally went to urgent care for help. 

The doctor on duty told me it was likely an allergic reaction to the mango I had eaten the day previous. He gave me a steroid injection to counteract the rash and a cream to apply. When I asked how long contact dermatitis lasts, he let me know it would be at least two weeks. 

For years, I did not eat mango. It terrified me. It was only over a decade later that I realized I was not allergic to mango per se. I did not become ill or have any internal reaction at all. It is my skin that reacts badly, and only to the yellow mangoes imported from Mexico. 

When the mango juice touches my skin, I get a rash. Super weird. Since then, I have been able to identify contact dermatitis when my sensitive skin has to deal with it, and I have discovered some wonderful treatments for the painful and itchy condition. 

Table of Contents: 

  • What is Contact Dermatitis?
  • 5 Tips to Treating Contact Dermatitis
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Coconut Oil
  • Petroleum Jelly
  • Steroid Cream
  • Antihistamine Drug
  • All-Natural Approaches to Contact Dermatitis
  • Best Products for Contact Dermatitis

What is Contact Dermatitis?

As you probably know by now, contact dermatitis is a type of rash that occurs when your skin (derma) encounters a foreign substance and reacts badly. 

Three types of contact dermatitis exist - allergic, irritant, and photo. The first is the most common, affecting 20% of people. Think of poison ivy or poison oak, or my experience with Mexican mango. Your skin has an allergy to a substance, so it reacts badly when you touch it. 

The allergy can vary in degree as well. I have only a slight allergy to poison ivy, only very rarely getting a rash when I touch it, for example. But my brother-in-law is highly allergic and seems to break out when he barely glances at it. 

Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when your skin reacts badly to a harsh chemical like bleach, kerosene, or pepper spray. These substances will cause contact dermatitis in anyone and everyone who comes into contact. 

The least common form is photo contact dermatitis, which is when your skin only reacts badly to something you put on your skin once it gets out into the sunlight. So, for instance, you apply a lotion and feel fine, but once you head to the beach, you begin to break out in hives, a rash, or a burning sensation. 

Contact dermatitis typically lasts for 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the severity. 

5 Tips to Treating Contact Dermatitis

Apple Cider Vinegar

My go-to for contact dermatitis is apple cider vinegar. Soak a cotton ball in ACV and apply it directly to the affected area. Warning: the smell will be strong. ACV will dry out the rash and draw away any fungus or bacteria. 

apple cider vinegar

Coconut Oil

I actually use both ACV and coconut oil when I have contact dermatitis because drying out the rash makes it itchier. Applying coconut oil once the ACV dries on the skin helps keep the rash moist while also imbuing it with its healing properties. 

Petroleum Jelly

If you have neither ACV nor coconut oil on hand, slather some petroleum jelly, like Vaseline, on it. At the very least it will neutralize the rash and stop it from spreading. 

Steroid Cream

In extreme cases, you might want to invest in a steroid cream like hydrocortisone or calamine lotion. I don’t love this as a first response because it can thin out your skin and make it rough over time, but if you’re really hurting and nothing else is working, go for it. 

Antihistamine Drug

And as a last resort, if you’re in a lot of pain and discomfort, contact your doctor. That is what they are there for, after all. Ask for a shot or a solution that can clear up the rash quicker and at least get you to the point where you can work with your plant-based ingredients. 

All-Natural Approaches to Contact Dermatitis

As with most things in life, I prefer the all-natural, plant-based solution because it has little to zero side effects. Unless you are allergic to a plant or it is highly toxic, chances are it will either help or be neutral. 

In contrast, there are so many negative side effects that result from pharmaceuticals, and many of them are not immediately obvious. Like with steroid cream, you often do not realize the impact it is having on your skin until it is too late. 

Whenever possible, aim for plant-based solutions to health problems. When in acute or chronic pain or an emergency, thank goodness for doctors and emergency medicine. It is all about balance. 

Best Products for Contact Dermatitis

I have linked below some gentle, moisturizing products to keep on hand for when you are dealing with contact dermatitis. You want to be careful not to put anything on your body that has chemicals or artificial fragrances, as it might come into contact with your rash. 

Lotions and Creams 

You will find a full range of rich and hydrating lotions and creams to apply after shower or bath, or just to keep on hand during the winter season after each hand washing. 

Shea & Cocoa Butter Moisturizing Lotion, wow Shea & Cocoa Butter Moisturizing Lotion

Body Wash

Switch to a plant based, all natural body wash so you do not have to worry about irritating any rashy areas and making matters worse. 

Essential Oils

Check out the ingredients and descriptions for the variety of essential oils at this link. Also note that tea tree oil has been shown among them to be highly effective at helping with contact dermatitis, so it will be helpful to have on hand. 

Follow the links to the site above and take your time picking and choosing which products might work for you. 

Shanna Mendez

Shanna Mathews Mendez is a freelance writer and blogger on topics related to self-care, naturopathy, female empowerment, and motherhood. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and children, where she enjoys traveling, being active outdoors, and studying herbalism and plant-based remedies in her free time. Drawing on her graduate degree in comparative literature and her own life experiences, she is currently writing her first book. She can be found online at her website thewordywitch.com

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