Skin allergies typically cause itchy, red skin, which can also swell or weep. Allergic reactions that affect the skin can be very uncomfortable. Not only are skin allergies physically unpleasant, their effects are visible and can be particularly embarrassing if they are on your hands or face.
Our team of dermatologists in Harley Street can provide a range of skin allergy treatments to help minimise and manage the effects of skin allergies.
What is an allergy?
An allergic reaction occurs when a substance that you eat, breathe or touch triggers an immune response in your body. The substances causing the reaction are called allergens. Some people are more sensitive than others to common allergens such as pollen, nickel and dust mites. Whether or not you are allergic to something depends on your genes and when and how you have been exposed to that substance in the past.
Around a quarter of people in the UK experience the symptoms of an allergy at some point in their lives. Skin allergies are very common and they can be managed effectively.
Types of skin allergies
Skin allergies are categorised as:
- Allergic contact dermatitis – contact with an irritant or allergen causes a reaction that leaves itchy, red patches on the skin, which can become dry and cracked. This type of skin allergy is very common. Find out more about dermatitis.
- Atopic dermatitis / eczema – dry red skin and sores that are itchy and uncomfortable and that often weep. This often occurs in young children with hay fever, asthma or a food allergy. Again, a very common type of skin allergy.
- Urticaria (hives) – raised red and white bumps that can occur anywhere on the face and body and that can last up to six weeks but that often disappear within 24 hours. Commonly occurs as a result of a food allergy.
- Angiodema – this is a more serious reaction to an allergen, which leads to swelling in the deeper layers of the skin and sometimes in the airways. Angioedema often occurs with hives. It can be hard to determine the cause of angiodema, but allergy testing may help to identify a trigger allergen.
Substances that can cause skin allergies
Common causes of skin allergies include:
- Cosmetics and hair dye – chemicals within the product can cause redness, welling, or a burning / stinging sensation to the affected area. Fragrances and preservative agents are often the cause of the irritation. Some of the chemicals in hair dye can be particularly irritating to the skin.
- Nickel, copper and other metals – metals commonly cause skin irritation when in close contact with the skin. The European Union now bans the use of nickel in costume jewellery just because nickel allergy is so common.
- Latex allergy – this is another common allergy that affects many people who need to wear protective gloves at work or in the home. Sweating inside the gloves can make the skin allergy worse.
- Sun sensitivity – people who are sensitive to UVA and UVB levels in sunlight can develop a rash when out in the sun. This type of skin allergy is called polymorphic light eruption and may begin when the days get sunnier in the spring, or after being out in the sun a lot on a summer holiday.
Managing your skin allergy
Some skin allergies are easier to manage than others. If you know that a particular food triggers an allergic reaction, you will do well to avoid it. If you have a latex allergy, you can choose different types of gloves, or wear inner liners.
However, you may experience a skin response but have no idea what is causing it. Having skin allergy testing can help to identify your level of response to specific allergens.
Our team of Consultant Dermatologists offer assessment, testing and management of all types of skin allergies. Once you know the allergens you are sensitive to, part of the allergy treatment will be to avoid them but you may also need creams, gels or washes to calm the skin and allow it to heal.