Common Causes and Sources of Skin Allergy

These are the most potent causes of skin allergy and their most likely sources. In some cases, not all items in each category contain the allergen. For example, not all jewelry contains nickel, and not all medications contains benzocaine. Check all items you use routinely to determine possible causes of skin reactions.

Plant, Compound or Chemical Common Sources


Rhus family Poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac
Paraphenylenediamine (may cross react with benzocaine, procaine, para-amino benzoic acid [PABA] and certain dyes in foods, drugs and cosmetics) Dyes in clothing, shoes and textiles (especially black, blue and brown); hair dyes; fur dyes
Nickel and nickel compounds Jewelry, coins, keys, buckles, clasps, zippers, door handles, knitting needles, thimbles, hydrogenated fats (as a catalyst), detergents used outside the U.S.
Rubber and rubber compounds Rubber gloves, rubber bands, adhesive tape and bandages, elasticized underwear
Ethylenediamine Preservative in topical ointments; aminophylline and theophylline suppositories


Alcohol* Rubbing alcohol, cosmetics, medicinal preparations
Antibacterial agents Soaps
Azo dyes (such as FD&C Yellow No. 5) Foods, drugs, cosmetics, ballpoint pens
Benzocaine (ethyl aminobenzoate) Cosmetics, medications, salves, suppositories
Carbonless copy paper Office forms
Carbowax Cosmetics
Cinnamon oil (cinnamic aldehyde and other cinnamates) Flavoring in toothpaste, mouthwash, candy, soft drinks, ice cream, baked goods, condiments, meats, chewing gum, flavored vermouth and bitters; aroma in perfumes, household deodorizers, air fresheners and sunscreens
Copper Coins, metal alloys, insecticides, fungicides (anti-mold agents)
DDT Insecticide
Formaldehyde (sometimes known as formalin) Clothing (cotton or blends labeled durable-press, wash and wear, wrinkle resistant, drip dry, no iron or permanent press), spun rayon, rayon acetate blends, polyester blends, flameproof sleepwear and clothing, shrink proof woolens; cosmetics, deodorants, insecticides, paper towels
Fragrances (balsam of Peru, wood tars, benzyl salicylate, phenylacetaldehyde) Perfumes, soaps, detergents, scented toiled paper
Henna Hair dye
Iodine compounds Tincture of iodine, loprep
Jasmine Perfumes and fragrances
Lanolin (wool flat, wool grease, wool wax) Soaps, lip gloss
Linseed oil Paints, varnishes, furniture polishes, putty
Mercury Topical ointments, disinfectants, insecticides
Musk ambrette Men's colognes and after-shave lotions
Newspaper print Newspaper
Orris root Fragrance in cosmetics
Parabens (methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben) Preservatives in most drugs and cosmetics
Para-led dyes Colored sections of newspapers and magazines
Potassium dichromate Yellow paints, leather (tanned), matches, some bleaches, anti-rust compounds, varnishes, spackling compounds and glues, ink chrome plating, welding, linoleum, cement, caulking compound
Potassium iodine Table salt, photography (emulsions)
Procaine (Novocaine) Local and spinal anesthesia
Propylene glycol and butylene glycol Face mask, hand cleansers, moisturizing creams
Pyrethrum (related to ragweed) Insecticide
Ragweed oil Ragweed stem, leaf and pollen
Resorcin Cosmetics, hair tonics, leather (tanned)
Rosin (made from turpentine) Brown soap, adhesive tape, furniture polish, varnishes, glue, floor wax
Sodium hypochlorite Bleach, cleansers
Turpentine Paint remover, polishes, cosmetics, insecticides, varnishes, liniment

Source: Alexander A. Fisher, Contact Dermatitis (Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger, 1978)
* Some people allergic to contact with alcohol may also experience overall redness when drinking alcoholic beverages.