Medical Specialties: Dermatology, Family practice

Clinical Definition

Dermatitis is an umbrella term that describes an epidermal inflammation that can manifest as a range of skin irritations and rashes, ranging from mild to severe. 

In Our Own Words

There are several common types of dermatitis (i.e., an irritation of the skin that can manifest in redness, irritation, itchiness and rashes), including contact dermatitis (both allergic and irritant); seborrheic dermatitis; and atopic dermatitis or eczema.


Contact dermatitis occurs when the skin touches an allergic reaction stimulus (i.e., allergic contact dermatitis, such as poison ivy), or when there is an injury to the surface of the skin (i.e., irritant contact dermatitis) caused by irritants such as detergents, soaps or chemicals. Seborrheic dermatitis includes two well-known conditions: dandruff and cradle cap. Finally, atopic dermatitis is sometimes used interchangeably with eczema, and it is in large part genetic (i.e., having to do with skin barrier function); most commonly found in families with a history of environmental allergies; and usually first appears in infants. It can get worse when the skin comes into contact with irritants such as rough, scratchy clothing.

Relevant Conditions
  • Secondary infection
  • Allergic propensity
  • Impaired barrier function
Common Types
Side Effects
  • Reddened skin
  • Oozing blisters and rash
  • Itchiness and swelling
  • Dry, cracked skin
Share this article
  • Cleveland Clinic. “Dermatitis.” Accessed August 2013.
  • National Institutes of Health. “Contact dermatitis.” Updated November 2011. Accessed August 2013.
  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. “Handout on Health: Atopic Dermatitis (A type of eczema).” Updated May 2013. Accessed September 2013.
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