Reacting to Environmental Chemicals

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Reacting to Environmental Chemicals

Skin and Chemical Allergies
Reacting to Environmental Chemicals
Reacting to Environmental Chemicals
From fabrics to flooring, from makeup to medicines, your world is full of chemicals, and many can cause allergic reactions.
InteliHealth Medical Content

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Chemical Allergies

From fabrics to flooring, from makeup to medicines, your world is full of chemicals, and some can cause adverse allergic reactions. Chemical allergies typically affect the skin, but also chemicals can irritate the mouth and respiratory tract.

Chemicals are everywhere, including your home. The typical residence can contain upwards of 200 different potentially harmful chemicals, especially if it's an energy-efficient home built after the late 1970s.

One potential allergen is formaldehyde, found in foam insulation, particle board or wallboard, carpeting, permanent-press clothing, waxes, dyes, polishes, plaster and paper. Although you may not see it or smell it, formaldehyde can irritate the eyes and mucous membranes lining the respiratory tract. Most eye irritation or respiratory reactions to formaldehyde are not true allergy reactions.

It is possible to develop an allergic contact dermatitis reaction to formaldehyde, if you are in contact with the chemical because it is in your clothing. Formaldehyde is present in several clothing dyes that are used to color synthetic clothing, including nylon and polyester. It is also contained in resins that are used to treat some clothing (even cotton clothing) to make it wrinkle-resistant. If you develop a rash where your clothing rubs against you or in moist areas (such as your armpits), then you may want to wear clothing made with natural fibers and clothing not billed as wrinkle-resistant.

Latex Allergies

It is a good idea to wear protective gloves and clothing when you're working with chemicals known to be harmful like dyes, paint thinners and other solvents. However, it is possible for some people to develop contact dermatitis or hives from latex, a rubber in some protective gloves. This allergy is primarily an issue for people who are having medical or dental procedures, but it can be potentially dangerous as it may result in anaphylaxis in a small number of people.

Cosmetics, Dye and Fragrance Allergies

Hair coloring dyes can cause allergy, resulting in a skin rash. Other cosmetics may trigger allergic reactions because they contain thimerosal (a preservative) or one of several fragrance ingredients that are occasionally able to provoke allergy. Preservatives or fragrances that can be allergy triggers can be found in eye drops, contact lens solutions, toothpastes, mouthwashes, cosmetics, soaps, sun-block or tanning products. If you suspect you're allergic to the cosmetics you're using, switch to those labeled hypoallergenic. That designation means they are specifically formulated to be less likely to cause an allergic reaction.



Last updated December 03, 2009

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