We evaluated the role of pre-existing dermatitis in the response to irritants by patch testing the skin of 40 healthy volunteers and the uninvolved skin of 480 subjects for 2 days. These latter were affected by active atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema with positive and negative patch test reactions, urticaria and generalized pruritus. A first panel containing 15 µL of aq. solutions of disodium laureth sulfosuccinate (NaLSS) 5% and 10%, potassium cocoate (KCC) 5%, potassium oleate (KOL) 5%, zinc coleth sulphate (ZnCS) 5%, sodium mireth sulphate (NaMS) 5%, sodium cocoamphoacetate (NaCCAA) 3% and 5%, was simultaneously applied to 1 site on the upper back. The results, scored by visual assessment, were compared to those observed when testing on the opposite side a second panel containing 15 µL of aq. solutions of 3 well-known irritants, benzalkonium chloride (BAK) 1%, sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) 1%, and dimethylsulphoxide (DMSO) 10%. Whilst the substances of the first panel and DMSO gave, on the whole, a scarce number of positive responses in all the tested groups, more evident differences in number, percent and mean intensity of the positive responses to BAK and SLS were found between the different groups. Although some of them seemed statistically significant, when the same values were evaluated by means of χ2 and Student t-test, they did not differ in a statistically significant way from the values found in healthy subjects. The results of this study seem to indicate that the substances of the first panel have a chemical structure that makes them quite safe in real-life conditions. In contrast, BAK and SLS have chemical properties that condition the number and intensity of the responses, making the role exerted by the pre-existing dermatosis quite marginal. In particular, there is no proof that the healthy skin of active atopic subjects is the most susceptible to the irritating effects of the tested substances.