Skin Sensitizers-March 2012

Monthly Round Up of Important Ideas and Standards in
Industrial Hygiene and Safety 

March 2012 

IN THIS ISSUE: Skin Sensitizers

The most common occupational disease is dermatitis, an inflammation of the skin caused by direct contact with an irritating agent.  Skin sensitizers are chemicals that cause dermatitis due to an allergic reaction.  Hundreds of chemicals have been implicated as skin sensitizers, and it is the most common allergic reaction.

As with most sensitizing reactions, allergy develops in two phases.  The first phase is initiated when a susceptible individual is exposed to an allergen triggering an immune response. A subject that has acquired skin sensitization now has the ability to mount a more aggressive response if contact is made with the same allergen again at the same or a distant skin site. The second phase is associated with a localized inflammatory reaction at the site of skin exposure characterized as allergic contact dermatitis.

The most common type of skin sensitization is caused by biological agents such as poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak. Other substances that are known to cause skin sensitization include cobalt, chromium and chromates, certain cosmetics and fragrances, epoxies, nickel, certain plants, preservatives, resins and acrylics. Workers with the greatest exposure and risk of reaction to skin sensitizers include agricultural workers, artists, beauticians, chemical/petroleum plant operators, cleaners, construction workers, cooks and caterers, hairdressers, health care workers, mechanics, metalworkers and vehicle assemblers.

Controlling Exposure to Skin Sensitizers

  1. Identify chemicals that may be sensitizers or otherwise irritate the skin. Use the MSDS and other available sources to identify these chemicals. A number of chemicals have a skin notation as part of their occupational exposure limit. 
  2. If possible, use a safer, non-hazardous substance. If not feasible, reduce exposure by containing the substance at the source (e.g. by enclosing the process or using local exhaust ventilation). Handle the materials in ways that limit contact.
  3. Use personal protective equipment (PPE). Make sure the PPE is worn properly, removed as not to cause contamination, and either replaced or maintained regularly. Appropriate gloves and cotton liners should be provided and selected according to their chemical and physical resistance properties and their general suitability for the job tasks.
  4. Use barrier and conditioning creams. Barrier formulations composed of silicone, zinc oxide, and dimethicone repel water and keep the chemical from contacting the skin.
  5. Train employees about the cause and control skin sensitizers. Ensure that workers understand how to protect themselves through available controls, PPE, and barrier creams. 

If a skin reaction occurs, respond to the situation on an individual basis.  Have the employee evaluated by a physicain, to determine the cause. If it is a case of sensitization, relocate the worker and/or try the enhanced use of PPE and barrier or skin creams.  In most cases skin sensitization is not a serious or debilitating occurrence. However, they can be very annoying and uncomfortable and make it difficult and unsafe for the employee to do his work. For more information on this topic and to discuss your company’s safety and industrial hygiene needs call OccuSafe at (214) 662-6005 or (303) 219-6973 or visit us at

OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate andcontrol hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety andhealth. OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries.

This newsletter is published monthly by OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. Feel free to forward it to friends and colleagues.

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