Dermatitis (eczema)

dermatitis, eczema

Dermatitis (also called eczema) is a skin condition which is common among farmers.  It is very uncomfortable and can be caused by contact with a range of agents – including: Farm chemicals

  • Solvents and cleaners
  • Disinfectants
  • Pesticides & fertilisers
  • Plants
  • Dust

Occupational dermatitis

Dermatitis caused by the mentioned agents is referred to as occupational contact dermatitis. With occupational dermatitis a rash develops via a work- related exposure to irritating or allergic substances – referred to triggering agents.  Contact and exposure to these triggering agents may cause either contact irritant or allergic dermatitis. In both cases a rash will develop and the skin will become red inflamed and itchy. The difference between the rashes is

  • irritant contact dermatitis – tends to present a rash that is confined to the area where the trigger touches the skin and develops immediately, whereas
  • allergic contact dermatitis, the rash is more likely to be widespread on the skin, blister like and take a day or so to develop.

Identifying and avoiding exposure to triggering agents in the work place along with wearing gloves will assist in preventing the occurrence of occupational contact dermatitis.

Dermatitis symptoms include dry, red, scaly, swollen and itchy skin. Sometimes the skin can crack, blister and weep.


  • Replace normal soap with a soap free cleanser like sorbolene and use sparingly.
  • Have lukewarm, rather than hot showers or baths, as heat exacerbates the itch.
  • Avoid perfumes or scented moisturisers
  • Wear soft, preferably cotton clothes

See your doctor if it doesn’t clear up in a few weeks.


  • If the rash is already present – ensure gloves are worn to minimise the severity.
  • Wear gloves with cotton liners whenever possible, especially when handling chemicals. Click here to visit our Safety Shop.
  • Use unperfumed moisturisers regularly to prevent dry skin (keep tubs or tubes  near hand washing areas)


Eczema (atopic dermatitis)

Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is an inherited, chronic skin condition that usually appears in early childhood. Patches of skin become red, dry and itchy and may weep. Eczema is not contagious. There is no cure, but it can be managed. Treatment may include moisturisers, corticosteroids, different creams and ointments, coal tar and ultraviolet radiation therapy (phototherapy).

Find out more about this topic on Better Health Channel

References used for this topic page

More information:

National Eczema Association

Facts about Eczema

National Eczema Association (US)

Living with eczema

New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated


Research & reviews:

Australasian Journal of Dermatology

Occupational contact dermatitis among New Zealand farmers

Australasian Journal of Dermatology

Irritant contact dermatitis: A review

International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health

Tertiary individual prevention of occupational skin diseases: a decade’s experience with recalcitrant occupational dermatitis

Journal of Clinical Investigations

New insight into atopic dermatitis

Safe Work Australia

Occupational Contact Dermatitis: A review of 18 years of data from an occupational dermatology clinic in Australia [PDF]

Factors contributing to workplace dermatitis [PDF]

Fast facts:

Dermatitis (eczema)

  • Dermatitis is an uncomfortable, itchy skin condition which is common among farmers.
  • Use gloves when handling chemicals, cleaners and fertilisers whenever possible to prevent eczema.
  • Avoid dry skin – use perfume free moisturisers, avoid harsh soaps and wash with lukewarm, rather than hot water.

Last updated: 18th January, 2019