Irritant dermatitis is probably most common on the backs of the hands and fingers. It can present anywhere on the body that has been excessively washed with soaps, is irritated by caustic chemicals, solvents or products. Irritant dermatitis can also occur in areas that are physically irritated from friction or rubbing of clothing, shoes, belts, seat belts or jewelry.
Irritant dermatitis can also be hastened or exacerbated by medications—especially medications like Accutane®* (Accutane is a registered trademark of —put this at the bottom of irritant dermatitis) that dry the skin out and decrease the production of the skin’s naturally occurring lipids.
When irritant dermatitis occurs on the hands (usually from excessive use of washing, soaps and hand sanitizers), it is usually present on the backs of the hands, wrists and the back of the skin between the fingers. An allergic eczema can also present on the backs of the hands, but is more commonly seen on the palmar side of the hand and fingers and on the tips of the fingers (think allergies to chemicals in baby wipes).
What Causes Irritant Dermatitis
The most common chemicals that cause irritant dermatitis in the hands are soaps. Soaps contain harsh chemicals in the sulfate family like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)much less irritating than SLS, Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS), sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS). These sulfates are considered surfactants—surfactants actually pull the dirt off of your skin, but they also pull the fats or lipids out of your skin too. When your skin is stripped of its essential lipids, then it becomes dry, rough, cracked and itchy. Most importantly though, is that without the protective fats or lipids, the skin becomes OPEN to its environment and can no longer protect you the way it is intended to. Once the skin barrier becomes compromised in this way, then the eczema sets in. By replacing the essential skin lipids to the skin and by preventing them from being washed off, the skin can repair itself and go back to its normal, healthy self.