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Clinical Services at Rush Contact Dermatitis Program

What is contact dermatitis?

  • Contact dermatitis is irritation from something that touches your skin.
  • Irritation may be either from direct injury, such as drying from soap, or from an allergic reaction.
  • Allergic reactions can arise from many different sources, including metals, rubber, preservatives, moisturizers, perfumes and plants.
  • Allergies can develop despite using a product for years without a problem.
  • Patch testing is the main method used to determine contact allergens.

How is patch testing different from prick testing?

  • Patch testing is frequently performed by dermatologists and is designed to find things that are coming in direct contact with your skin.
  • Prick testing is primarily performed by allergists, and is used to detect allergens that are either inhaled or eaten.
  • Patch testing involves placing small amounts of allergens directly on the skin, while in prick testing small amounts of allergens are placed just under the skin.

How does patch testing work?

  • Allergic contact dermatitis often involves only one ingredient or material. Studies have determined the most common allergies that occur in the United States, and these are used as a starting point in testing. In addition, specific allergens can be added based on your specific history. These potential allergens are then placed on your back to determine if you have a specific allergy. Approximately 70 percent of the time, relevant allergens are found. After determining an allergen, you can then avoid the substance, and you will be given a list of products that are safe to use.

What to expect

You will be mailed an extensive history form to help determine possible sources for your dermatitis to complete prior to your first visit.

First visit: consultation

  • An extensive history will be taken in order to determine the most likely allergens you may be coming in contact with and what you should be tested for.

Second visit: week of patch testing

  • Patch tests applied
  • On the first day, you will have allergens applied to your back. You cannot be taking prednisone or applying topical medication to your back at this time. Preparing and applying these tests will take about 30 minutes. These will remain in place for 48 hours and removed at your next visit. During this time, you must avoid excessive sweating or showering so that the allergens remain in place. (Patch testing may be combined with the first visit at the discretion of the physician.)

Third visit: patch tests removed and examined

  • Two days after the patches are applied, they will be removed and your back examined for allergic reactions. You may shower after the patches are removed but must avoid soaping or scrubbing your back as this may remove markings for the locations of the patch tests.

Fourth visit: final examination

  • Either four days or seven days after the patches are applied you will have a final examination. At this visit you will be counseled about any positive allergens and how to avoid them. You will also be given a list of products that do not contain these allergens and should be safe for you to use.

Clinical Team

Brian Bonish, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist with specific clinical interest in the dermatologic conditions of psoriasis, atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis. He joined the dermatology staff at Rush in July 2008 as an assistant professor. Bonish holds a BS in microbiology and an MS in cellular and molecular biology from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In 2003, he received his MD/PhD with distinction from Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood, Ill. His postdoctoral work at Loyola Health System included an internship in the Department of Internal Medicine and a residency in the dermatology division, where he also served as chief resident.

Bonish has extensive research experience in dermatology and immunology, beginning with his master’s and doctoral theses and continuing through his postdoctoral fellowship work at Loyola with Brian J. Nickoloff, MD, PhD, and Kenneth Gordon, MD. He is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, the Chicago Dermatology Society, the Society for Investigative Dermatology, the Illinois Dermatological Society and the Dermatology Foundation. He has published numerous articles, abstracts and book chapters.

Contact Name
Dermatology at Rush
Contact Phone
(312) 942-2195
Contact E-mail

LocationHours of Operation
Rush Professional Office Building
1725 W. Harrison St., Suite 264
Chicago, IL 60612

Monday to Friday
8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

To make an appointment phone (312) 942-2195.

LocationHours of Operation
Dermatology, Westmont
6319 S. Fairview, 102
Westmont, IL 60559

Monday to Friday
8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

To make an appointment phone (630) 968-4500.

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Clinical Services
Contact Dermatitis Program

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