The prognosis of occupational contact dermatitis (OCD) takes into account the extent of healing, effect on quality of life and employment, and financial costs for both the individual and the wider community. We reviewed 15 studies published between 1958 and 2002, reporting the complete clearance of dermatitis (range of 18-72%). 9 of the 15 studies reported a clearance rate of between 18 and 40%. Improvement was reported as an outcome in 3 studies between 1991 and 2002 (range of 70-84%). A number of common variables were identified as of possible influence. These include age, sex, atopy, patient knowledge, disease aetiology, duration of symptoms and job change; clinical, financial and social issues are also described. All of these factors need to be considered when managing a patient with OCD. Improved patient knowledge and early diagnosis may be associated with improved prognosis, whereas job change does not make a significant difference. Some patients will develop persistent post-occupational dermatitis, which has important implications for prognosis and workers' compensation. Only a small proportion of eligible patients receive workers' compensation, even though financially supported healing time soon after diagnosis may result in an improved prognosis.