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Common Skin Irritants


Do you find that you are suffering from irritated skin but you are not sure why?  It could be something in a product that you are using, or even in something that you are eating.  There are over 2000 allergens that can cause a problem, 400 of which can be tested for through patch testing.  Read on to learn more about some of the common skin irritants.

Common Skin Irritants

Some common causes of skin irritation include:
• Nickel and cobalt – found in jewellery and also in buttons and clasps on clothing
• Balsam of Peru – a fragrance in perfumes and skin lotions
• Thimerosal – used in local antiseptics and as a preservative in some vaccines
• Neomycin sulphate – a topical antibiotic that is commonly used in first aid creams and ointments
• Formaldehyde – a preservative that is found in paper products, paint, medications, household cleaners, cosmetic products (including nail products), and fabric finishes
• Quaternium 15 – a preservative in cosmetics such as shampoo or in industrial products like polishes
• Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) – a detergent and emulsifier that is found in dried food, and nearly everything that needs to lather, such as toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, and some moisturisers
• Isopropyl alcohol – is an anti foaming agent that is used in hair colours, moisturisers, aftershave lotion, nail polishes, antifreeze, carpet cleaners, and more
• Paraffin – is derived from petroleum or tar, and it can dry the skin out causing irritation.  It is found in creams, wax strips, moisturisers, body oils, and more
• Petrolatum – is a cheap mineral oil derivative that leads to dryness, and it is found in moisturisers and lip balms
• Methylisothiazolinnone – is a preservative that can cause skin irritation
• Propylene glycol – is a humectant that is found in many cosmetic and beauty products but is also found in brake fluid and antifreeze
• Methyl, propyl, butyl, and ethyl parabens – parabens are preservatives that extend shelf life and they are found in all kinds of beauty products
• Fragrance – this is a vague term that can refer to any one of 200 synthetic fragrances which do not require separate labelling and this is found in all kinds of products
• DEA (diethanolamine) and MEA (monoethanolamine) – these are used as emulsifiers and foaming agents and they are used in many products in Australia, despite warnings about them overseas
• Artificial Colours – FDC red 4, FDC red 1, or food red 1 are banned in food but can still be used in cosmetics
• Coal tar – FD&C and D&C colours should be avoided as they are known skin irritants and are found in anti dandruff shampoos and are also used to colour cosmetics
• TEA (triethanolamine) – this is used in skincare products and also to coat conventionally grown fruits and vegetables
• Tallow – used in liptsticks, soaps, and shaving cream
• Phthalates – are used in thousands of products to make them more flexible and are used in cosmetics, soaps, toys, shampoos, detergents, vinyl, food packaging and food containers
• Plant allergies – many plants can cause an allergic skin reaction and some of these include capeweed, dogwood, ragweed, chrysanthemum, primula, alstromeria, rhus, bulbs, daisies, ivy, tomatoes, zucchini, poison ivy, mango, garlic, onion, tea tree, and grevillea
• Food allergies – these can often manifest in the form of skin irritations.  The eight most common food allergens are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and crustacean shellfish.  However, many other foods may prove to be allergens for some people.

Other Skin Irritants

Other substances that can cause skin irritation include:
• Hairdressing products such as hair dyes, hair bleach, and perm solutions
• Epoxy resins
• Chromate (found in cement and also used to tan leather)
• Chemicals used in making rubber products, especially thiurams, mercaptobenzothiazoles, and carbamates
• Wood dusts that contain a substance called colophony or rosin. This is also present in adhesive bandages, glues, and other sticky substances
• Cosmetic and sunscreen additives such as PABA, oxybenzone, and benzophene
• Flavouring agents such as cinnamates in toothpaste or foods
• Medication preservatives such as benzylkonium chloride (in eyedrops) and lanolin

Patch Testing

Patch testing is an important way of determining what product your skin is reacting to.  Small amounts of chemicals which have been properly diluted are placed on discs that are approximately the size of a 5 cent piece.  The discs sit on a piece of hypoallergenic tape that is called a “patch” and there are 10 discs per patch.  Several patches are stuck onto the person’s back and left there for 48 hours, with the area being kept dry.  The strips are then removed and analysed.  The person comes back in 2 or 3 days for further analysis.  Over 400 allergens can be tested in this manner so it is important that the doctor has a general idea of where to start.  Patch testing can also be used for cosmetic products such as hair dye (where a small amount is applied behind the ear and left for 48 hours) to ensure that there are no reactions.

Allergic Reactions – You May Not Even Know

Be aware that sometimes you may not even realise that you are having an allergic reaction to a substance as there is no significant reaction – itch, redness, and so forth.  However, the allergy can grow worse over time and you may find that you suddenly cannot tolerate the allergenic substance at all.


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