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Dermatitis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, & Management

Written by Ross Goodhart
Reviewed by Julie Karen, M.D.
Dermatitis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, & Management

If you’ve ever had skin inflammation, you’re not alone. In fact, that’d put you in the 7% of the global population that gets dermatitis (as it’s technically referred to by dermatologists) at some point in their lives. That’s about 245 million people worldwide who are dealing with everything from mild inflammation to skin infections, severe rashes, and beyond.

But what is dermatitis? And how is it related to common issues like dandruff? In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into all things dermatitis, so you can get a handle on your skin condition and learn how to manage your symptoms.

Dermatitis 101: What Is It?

Dermatitis is a broad term used to describe a range of inflammatory skin diseases that produce itchy, red, and irritable rashes. In severe cases, dermatitis causes the skin to flake, blister, break, or ooze. 

Since dermatitis is a highly visible disease, many people are embarrassed or ashamed of the splotches and rashes on their skin. In most cases, treatment involves moisturizing creams and lotions that help alleviate these annoying symptoms.

Fortunately, dermatitis isn’t a contagious disease. Instead, experts believe that dermatitis is caused by two factors: environmental and genetic. We’ll dive into these causes below.

Theories of Causation

Despite decades of scientific advancement in our understanding of skin diseases and disorders, the jury’s still out on the precise causes of dermatitis. 

On the one hand, some experts think that the various types of dermatitis are purely genetic. In recent studies, certain genes and genetic variants have been proven to be associated with the expression of eczema and dermatitis. 

Lifestyle is another possible cause of dermatitis. Things like diet, exercise, where you live, what personal care products you use, and traveling might lead to certain types of dermatitis.

Lastly, some experts have put forward the so-called “hygiene hypothesis.” This hypothesis posits that diseases like dermatitis are the byproduct of an overly hygienic and clean environment during one’s childhood. 

Can Dermatitis Cause Dandruff?

Yes - dermatitis can cause dandruff. 

Dandruff is simply flaking that results from the irritation of the scalp. This irritation may be caused by a number of underlying medical conditions. That includes contact dermatitis (e.g. hairspray irritates your scalp, resulting in dandruff) and seborrheic dermatitis (a chronic skin condition that creates itchiness, scaling, and large, yellowish flakes).

Types of Dermatitis

Since dermatitis is an umbrella term, there are several variants of the disease that each express themselves differently on the body. Just because you have one type of dermatitis doesn’t mean that you’re at risk for another disease. Some of the most common forms of dermatitis include:

  • Contact dermatitis: This is an allergic reaction caused by an external substance. It can take the form of rashes, blistering, itching, or burning.

  • Seborrheic dermatitis: This occurs commonly on the scalp, face, and chest and often produces dandruff and patchy skin. This form of dermatitis also appears in babies as "cradle cap," where it is often mistaken for a diaper rash. Although the exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis is unknown, it is commonly found near sebum-rich areas of the body where sebaceous glands cause oily skin and sweat build up such as the armpits and skin folds.

  • Dyshidrotic dermatitis: This immune condition causes blistering and dryness - usually on the soles of the feet or palms of the hand.

  • Atopic dermatitis: Commonly called eczema, this condition is heritable and often occurs during infancy in the form of dry, itchy skin around joints.

  • Stasis dermatitis: This rarer form of dermatitis is caused by a lack of efficient blood circulation in the extremities of the body.

There are also several less-common types of dermatitis that occurs in only small segments of the population, or on specific body parts. Some of the rarer forms of dermatitis include the following:

  • Neurodermatitis: This type of dermatitis produces a single thick, pigmented patch of eczema caused by excessive rubbing or itching and is treated with generic anti-inflammation medication.

  • Viral dermatitis: These rare eczematous conditions are underlaid by viral infections and diseases.

  • Herpetiformis: Otherwise known as Duhring’s disease, this rare type of dermatitis produces symmetrical rashes on arms, legs, and other extremities and is genetically related to celiac disease.

  • Discoid eczema: A form of eczema that creates dry or oozing rashes on the legs during dry weather months (usually winter).

  • Dyshidrosis: Also known as “hand dermatitis,” this form of itchy dermatitis affects the hands, fingers, and toes, and gets worse during warm weather months.

Treating Dermatitis

The best type of treatment for dermatitis depends on the specifics of your condition. Here are some of your options when it comes to treating and managing the symptoms of dermatitis:

Dandruff Shampoo

If you’re dealing with dandruff flakes caused by dermatitis, good news - it’s quick to treat and simple to get rid of. Jupiter’s Balancing Shampoo is a fast-acting shampoo specially formulated with Zinc Pyrithione (ZPT). As a proven dandruff treatment, ZPT offers safety and effectiveness. Our Balancing Shampoo helps rid your scalp of flakes. After shampooing, follow it with our Nourishing Conditioner made with probiotics, vitamin E, and colloidal oatmeal to help moisturize and soothe your scalp and hair.

Things like diet, exercise, where you live, what personal care products you use, and traveling might lead to certain types of dermatitis.

Lifestyle Choices

You can also help treat dermatitis by making small adjustments to the way you live. Those with dermatitis are recommended to bathe or shower at least once per day in warm water and avoid soaps that may dry out the skin. If you notice your cosmetic products are aggravating your skin and causing dermatitis or eczema, stop using them.

It’s also a good idea to avoid abrasive textiles such as wool and other materials in clothing that might rub against rashes or dry skin. Reducing or eliminating the number of house dust mites in your living space may also help improve allergic dermatitis and atopic dermatitis eczema.


Many forms of dermatitis result in dry skin and itchiness. Fortunately, moisturizing lotions, known as emollients, can help reduce flares and relieve the dryness associated with irritant contact dermatitis. Moisturizers and function barrier creams containing topical calcineurin inhibitors and ceramides should be used daily to help manage symptoms.

Corticosteroids and Antihistamines

In the event of an eczema flare-up, corticosteroid medications may be used to suppress symptoms and provide relief at the skin barrier. Various topical steroids and topical corticosteroids can be applied directly to the site of the flare-up to reduce itching, redness, thickened skin, crusty patches, scaly patches, and other irritant symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis. Dermatologists will often additionally prescribe topical antifungals like ketoconazole for the treatment of Malassezia yeast that causes many forms of dermatitis. Other topical dermatologic prescriptions for the treatment of skin disorders like seborrhoeic dermatitis, rosacea, and psoriasis, include hydrocortisone, pimecrolimus and tacrolimus, salicylic acid and coal tar washes, and selenium sulfide. Your health care provider will inform you of how often to apply these treatments to the affected areas and will keep you informed of any possible side effects and risk factors as you begin treatment.

Conventional over the counter (OTC) antihistamines are sometimes used to relieve the symptoms of allergen-caused contact dermatitis.  

Alternative Therapies

A range of unsubstantiated alternative therapies also exist for the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp. However, there is little empirical evidence supporting the utility of such therapies, which include acupuncture, chiropractic, and the application of essential oils like buckthorn, primrose, or borage seed oil.

Managing Dermatitis

The right set of products and lifestyle choices can be a big help in managing dermatitis and its symptoms. At Jupiter, our dandruff shampoo is scientifically-formulated for the relief of dandruff that results from dermatitis. Learn more here.

Balancing Shampoo
Balancing Shampoo

Meet our head honcho. This soothing multi-tasker gets to the root of flaking and irritation, thanks to our star active ingredient, Zinc Pyrithione. Backed by a lush aroma of mint, vanilla, rosemary, sage, tangerine, and lavender, it’s bound to elevate your mood, and your shower.

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, nor is it a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have about the information contained herein, as well as the risks or benefits of any treatment.