How it works:

  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

How it works:

  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

Everything you need to know about irritated skin

Even if you don’t know the cause, there are steps you can take to help ease it.

Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team
Oct 24, 2022 · 7 min read

Share
Man looking at his skin on the mirror
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
  1. blog
  2. > Skin Concerns
  3. > Everything you need to know about irritated skin

What’s worse than having irritated skin? Having irritated skin and not knowing why. Irritated skin can include a variety of symptoms, including dryness, scaliness, flakiness, itchiness, or a rash. Many things can cause it, from certain types of fabric to the weather. Here we’ll explain what irritated skin is. We’ll also discuss the differences between two potential causes of irritation, allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis, and give a few ideas to help treat your irritated skin. Spoiler alert: The first step to figuring out why your skin is so sensitive and itchy is understanding what could be causing it.

Why is my skin irritated?

Many things can lead to irritated skin, like having allergies or sensitive skin that’s naturally prone to irritation. Usually, skin irritation happens when you’re exposed to something that causes a reaction (like redness, burning, or itchiness). That said, it’s important to remember that everyone’s skin is different, so what causes one person’s skin to react is not necessarily the same as another’s. That’s why you may have to do some detective work to figure out what’s irritating yours, which isn’t always easy. But doing so is important because knowing the cause (or causes) is one of the first steps to figuring out how to treat it and help prevent it from happening again. 

One of the best things you can do to figure out what’s behind your irritation is to pay close attention to anything new that your skin came in contact with just before you started experiencing the symptoms (like tingling and itchy skin all over your body). 

Here are some questions to ask yourself: 

  • Did your skin come into contact with a possibly irritating substance? Poison ivy is a classic irritant that most people know to avoid, but the list of less susceptible culprits includes certain dyes, added fragrances, or other ingredients in things like detergents, body washes, and shampoos. 

  • Are you adjusting to a new topical cleanser or treatment cream? Skin often needs time to adjust to skincare products that contain certain ingredients, like benzoyl peroxide, tretinoin, and azelaic acid. While it adjusts, your skin may experience temporary dryness, itching, or redness. 

  • Are you in a different climate or environment? Being exposed to weather that’s drier, windier, or colder than your skin is used to can cause skin irritation. Environmental pollution, both artificial and natural, like exhaust from cars or pollen, can also trigger skin irritation. 

  • Are you reacting to metals? Some metals, like nickel, can cause skin irritation. Irritant or allergic contact dermatitis occurs where the skin makes contact with the substance. So, if your new metal belt buckle is touching your bare skin and you notice a skin reaction in the affected area, that might be the problem.  

What is dermatitis?

A common term that gets thrown a lot in the skincare community, dermatitis is the general medical term used to describe skin irritation or inflammation. There are many different types of dermatitis, like atopic dermatitis, which is the most common type of eczema.¹ Contact dermatitis is another category typically associated with allergies and skin irritants. The good news is dermatitis—regardless of the type—is not contagious and is treatable. Regardless, it can negatively affect your quality of life.²

Dermatitis allergic contact - Everything you need to know about irritated skin

When it comes to the two types of contact dermatitis, the signs and symptoms and how quickly they appear will depend on whether you have a skin allergy or irritation. Allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis are two separate conditions, and understanding the difference between the two is key. 

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Allergic contact dermatitis happens when your skin comes into contact with a substance (an allergen) that triggers an immune response. Skin changes occur on repeat exposures to the allergen. The reaction does not occur on the first exposure.³ Common culprits include fragrances, certain skincare ingredients, and metals (like nickel).

  • Irritant contact dermatitis happens when your skin reacts to an irritant it comes in contact with, but it’s not an allergic reaction.⁴ Symptoms tend to appear within a few minutes to hours after contact.⁵ Common culprits include cleaning supplies, detergents, and certain acids.

Face perioral dermatitis - Everything you need to know about irritated skin

What can you do to ease skin irritation?

It may seem obvious, but just in case it’s not: Pinpoint whatever’s causing your skin irritation, and ditch it. Even if you're struggling to figure out what's causing your skin to react, there are a few things you can do to help relieve it. Whether you’re experiencing itchy skin at night, bumps on your skin, or your skin is simply bothering you all day long, here’s what you can do: 

  • Stop scratching. It’s not always easy, but it’s effective! Scratching may seem to provide immediate relief, but it often makes matters worse. You’ll most likely feel the urge to keep scratching—and the vicious cycle begins.

  • Skip those long, hot showers. Like scratching, they may feel good while you’re taking them, but generally speaking, hot water can damage skin, leaving it dry and irritated. Stick to warm showers instead.

  • Moisturize. Applying a hydrating moisturizer to soothe irritated skin may also be an effective remedy for itchy skin at night.⁶ Look for moisture-attracting ingredients like hyaluronic acid or calming ingredients like aloe vera. Moisturizers or barrier creams can also help avoid continued exposure to irritants.⁷ 

  • Watch out for products with added fragrance. Many cosmetic and skincare products are loaded with added fragrances, including natural essential oils and artificial scents. Both can irritate even not-so-sensitive skin.

Young woman applying cream on her skin
  • Drink plenty of water and use a humidifier. Drinking water won’t cure irritated skin directly, but making sure you get the right amount of water on a daily basis is essential to your overall health. Using a humidifier to add moisture to the air at home may help ease irritated skin, too.

  • Try oral or topical over-the-counter medications. Over-the-counter antihistamines and corticosteroids may provide some relief.⁸ Antihistamine creams or oral antihistamines may help calm symptoms associated with allergic contact dermatitis, and topical corticosteroids generally soothe irritated skin. Just be sure to follow the product instructions regarding how long you should use it, and talk to your healthcare provider to be sure these treatments are right for you and your specific condition! Sometimes, prescription medications may be required.

  • Apply a cold compress to soothe skin irritation. Use a soft cloth soaked in an ice bath. Squeeze out the excess water and gently apply it to the areas of your skin that are irritated.    

Customized skincare with Curology 

Dealing with irritated skin can be a pain, literally. We currently don’t diagnose or treat skin allergies or most instances of contact dermatitis (we typically recommend seeing an in-person dermatology provider for that). But we can help with common skin conditions like acne, hyperpigmentation, rosacea, and aging skin for all skin types, including sensitive skin. Our licensed dermatology providers are your trusted partners along your skincare journey—providing expert guidance every step of the way.

Curology Custom Formula White Bottles

Curious about how we can help? Just answer a few questions, and snap a few selfies to help us get to know your skin. If Curology is right for you, we'll pair you with one of our in-house licensed dermatology providers. They'll create a personalized prescription formula and recommend any of our other products that may help you achieve your unique skincare goals.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Subject to consultation. 30-day trial. Just cover $4.95 in S&H.
curology bottle
curology bottle

The first month's on us.* Just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover shipping and handling. Your products will be delivered to your front door. 

FAQs

Why is my skin irritated?

Many things can lead to irritated skin, like allergies or sensitive skin that’s naturally prone to irritation. Usually, skin irritation happens when you’re exposed to something that causes a reaction (like redness, burning, itchiness). You may have to do some detective work to figure out what’s irritating your skin since knowing the cause (or causes) is one of the first steps to figuring out how to treat it and help prevent it from happening again.

What is dermatitis?

Dermatitis is the general medical term used to describe skin irritation or inflammation. There are many different types of dermatitis, like atopic dermatitis, which is the most common type of eczema. Contact dermatitis is another category typically associated with allergies and skin irritants. The good news is dermatitis is not contagious and is treatable!

What type of dermatitis do I have?

When it comes to the two types of contact dermatitis, the signs and symptoms and how quickly they appear will depend on whether you have a skin allergy or irritation:

  • Allergic contact dermatitis happens when your skin comes into contact with a substance (an allergen) that triggers an immune response. Skin changes occur on repeat exposures to the allergen. The reaction does not occur on the first exposure.

  • Irritant contact dermatitis happens when your skin reacts to an irritant it comes in contact with, but it’s not an allergic reaction. Symptoms tend to appear within a few minutes to hours after contact.

How to ease skin irritation?

Pinpoint whatever’s causing your skin irritation, and ditch it. Even if you're struggling to figure out what's causing your skin to react, there are a few things you can do to help relieve it:

  • Stop scratching.

  • Skip those long, hot showers.

  • Moisturize.

  • Watch out for products with added fragrance.

  • Drink plenty of water and use a humidifier.

  • Try oral or topical over-the-counter medications (talk to your healthcare provider to be sure these treatments are right for you.

  • Apply a cold compress.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1.  American Academy of Dermatology. Eczema types: Contact dermatitis diagnosis and treatment. (n.d.).

  2.  Mento C., et al. Negative emotions in skin disorders: A systematic review.International Journal of Psychological Research. (January-July 2020).

  3.  Usatine R.P., et al. Diagnosis and management of contact dermatitis.American Family Physician. (2010, August 1). 

  4.  Anega A., et al. Irritant contact dermatitis.Medscape. (2020, November 20). 

  5.  Graham Litchman, et al. Contact Dermatitis. StatPearls. (2022, September 5).

  6.  Brasch J., et al. Guidelines of care for contact dermatitis.Allergo Journal International. (2014, June 21).

  7.  Usatine R.P., et al. Diagnosis and management of contact dermatitis.American Family Physician. Ibid.

  8.  Usatine R.P., et al. Diagnosis and management of contact dermatitis.American Family Physician. Ibid.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

Related Articles

Oat straw extract benefits, according to the experts Is chocolate to blame for your breakouts?What is retinol and where does it come from?Ask the experts: How to treat miliaHow jojoba seed oil can benefit your skin

Popular Articles

Seasonal summer foods for healthier skinMoisturizers for sensitive skinFoundation matching: how to find your skin tone?How to shrink a cystic pimpleAcne vs. rosacea: what’s the difference?
30-day trial. $4.95 S&H. Subject to consultation.
Get StartedWhy CurologyGuidesOur StoryCommunity
SupportBlogReviewsCareersContact Us
Follow @curology
Vegan and Cruelty Free Stamp, est. 2014
Terms of ServicePrivacy Notice
Do Not Sell My Personal Information
All Rights Reserved © 2022 Curology