Contact Dermatitis Caused by Preservatives

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Abstract

Preservatives are biocidal chemicals added to food, cosmetics, and industrial products to prevent the growth of microorganisms. They are usually nontoxic and inexpensive and have a long shelf life. Unfortunately, they commonly cause contact dermatitis. This article reviews the most important classes of preservatives physicians are most likely to encounter in their daily practice, specifically isothiazolinones, formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasers, iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, methyldibromoglutaronitrile, and parabens. For each preservative mentioned, the prevalence of sensitization, clinical presentation of contact dermatitis, patch testing concentrations, cross reactions, and related legislation will be discussed. Mandatory labeling of preservatives is required in some countries, but not required in others. Until policies are made, physicians and patients must be proactive in identifying potential sensitizers and removing their use. We hope that this article will serve as a guide for policy makers in creating legislation and future regulations on the use and concentration of certain preservatives in cosmetics and industrial products.

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