Updated 23 May 2017

Top 10 skin allergens

All that itches is not gold, but the precious metal is among the leading causes of a skin condition called allergic contact dermatitis.


According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, allergic contact dermatitis is a skin inflammation characterised by swollen, reddened and itchy skin that's caused by direct contact with an allergen.

The top ten contact dermatitis allergens were:

  • Nickel, frequently used in jewellery and clasps or buttons on clothing
  • Gold, common to jewellery
  • Balsam of Peru, a tree resin-derived fragrance used in perfumes and skin lotions
  • Thimerosal, a mercury compound used in vaccines and local antiseptics
  • Neomycin sulphate, a topical antibiotic common in first-aid creams and ointments. It's also found in cosmetics, deodorants, soap and pet food
  • Fragrance mix, a group of the eight most common fragrance allergens found in foods, cosmetic products, insecticides, antiseptics, soaps, perfumes and dental products
  • Formaldehyde, a preservative used in numerous items including paints, medications, fabric finishes, paper products, household cleaners and cosmetics
  • Cobalt chloride, a metal found in medical products, hair dye, antiperspirant, and metal-plated objects such as snaps, buttons and tools. Also found in cobalt blue pigment
  • Bacitracin, a topical antibiotic
  • Quaternium 15, a preservative found in cosmetic products such as self-tanners, shampoo, nail polish and sunscreen, and in industrial products such as polishes, paints and waxes.

Avoiding allergens is the chief treatment for contact dermatitis. In some cases, corticosteroid creams can be used to treat rashes caused by contact dermatitis. (Health24, updated April 2011)

Read more:
Kids and allergies


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Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies.

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