HomeHealth TopicDermatology

At-Home and Over-the-Counter Treatments for Allergic Skin Reactions

Maria Robinson, MD, MBA
Published on February 10, 2020

Allergic skin reactions are a common problem. In fact, almost 10% of people have experienced some type of skin allergy. And if you’ve ever developed a red, itchy rash after trying a new skincare product or wearing new jewelry, you know how uncomfortable it can be.

Here we’ll talk about why your skin has these reactions and some steps you can take to soothe your skin when it happens.

Close-up of a parent applying antihistamine cream to a child's hand.
Pikusisi-Studio/iStock via Getty Images

Identifying the type of reaction

When something touches your skin and causes a rash, it’s called contact dermatitis. There are two types of contact dermatitis:

  • Irritant contact dermatitis: This is the most common type and occurs when an irritant touches your skin and causes a rash. Irritants can include toxins — like chemicals and bleach — but also some everyday products, like dish soap.

  • Allergic contact dermatitis: This occurs when your skin has an allergic reaction to something because it activates your immune system. If you’ve ever reacted to poison ivy, you know what it’s like to have this type of rash. Common allergens include nickel, latex, and some fragrances and preservatives found in skin products. 

Whether you develop an irritant or allergic contact dermatitis, there are certain things you can do to help relieve your symptoms.

And remember, after you treat the rash, it’s important to identify what caused it so you can avoid it in the future.

Home remedies for allergic skin reactions

There are several safe and easy ways to soothe mild allergic skin reactions at home. If your symptoms are severe you should speak with a healthcare provider before trying any at-home treatments.

  • Don’t scratch. The first step is to avoid scratching, which can be hard to do. But the more you scratch your skin, the more it will get irritated and inflamed. Scratching can also increase your risk of getting a skin infection.

  • Cold compresses. Ice packs and cold compresses can really help calm inflamed skin. Applying these for 5-10 minutes several times a day will also relieve the itch.

  • Oatmeal baths. If a large area of skin is involved or your symptoms are really intense, oatmeal baths can help. Use something like Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment directly in your bath to soothe inflamed skin.

Over-the-counter options

In addition to taking the above steps, there are several over-the-counter products that may help relieve your symptoms:

  • Topical steroids: Hydrocortisone is a low-dose topical steroid that can help treat your dermatitis by lowering skin inflammation. It can be used once or twice a day for up to two weeks.

  • Antihistamines: If your itching is severe, an antihistamine like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can be helpful. Just remember that some antihistamines can make you sleepy.

  • Cooling agents: Ingredients like menthol and camphor can help relieve itchy skin. Some products like Sarna Original Anti-Itch Lotion combine both agents. Creams with calamine or pramoxine can also help reduce the itch.

  • Refrigerate your creams: Try keeping your creams and lotions in the fridge before using them. This will add an extra cooling effect on your skin.

When to see your healthcare provider

Many irritant and allergic skin reactions are mild and can be treated at home. In fact, most people are often able to identify the trigger and avoid it in the future.

But when should you see a dermatologist or other healthcare provider? Here are some instances when you may need professional help:

  • If your symptoms are very severe (significant blisters or oozing) or involve a large patch of skin

  • If your rash doesn’t improve or it keeps coming back

  • If you can’t figure out what you’re reacting to, dermatologists have a special test called a patch test that can help identify what you’re allergic to

  • If you develop any pus, pain or the rash spreads – these could be signs of a skin infection

  • If you’re having any problems breathing, you should seek immediate medical attention

Which skincare products won’t cause a reaction?

Just because you’ve had contact dermatitis doesn’t mean you have to stay away from all skincare products. You may benefit from using products that are created for people with sensitive skin. These products try to avoid the common irritants and allergens that cause skin reactions.

Products like Vanicream and Simple have several skincare options for people with sensitive skin. VMV Hypoallergenics has both skincare products and a makeup line for people who have skin reactions to more regular makeup.

Prevention is the best treatment

And remember that with any contact dermatitis, prevention is the best treatment. The most important thing is to identify what your skin is reacting to and avoid coming into contact with it in the future.

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