Increase in allergic skin disease

Presentations at the European Academy for Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) Skin Allergy Meeting, held in Venice in November, suggest that allergic skin diseases among children have doubled in recent years due to the indiscriminate use of non-hypoallergenic make-up such as lotions, moisturisers, deodorants and make-up items that contain allergens such as fragrances or preservatives.

Itchy skin patches, blisters or eczema can be directly triggered by contact with products that contain one of the 26 substances listed in EU guidelines as highly allergenic, especially when significant amounts are not flagged in the labels. The average person is thought to use 12 personal products a day which may contain up to 168 chemicals, many of which can be an irritant or a substance that causes an allergic reaction. Patch tests reveal that over one fifth of all adults react to substances in cosmetics.

This was the first EAACI meeting to focus on the link between skin diseases and allergies and new ways to increase the resilience of skin barriers at all ages, as well as new therapies to treat the rapid swelling of dermis or tissues.

The recent annual meeting of the ACAAI (American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology) also highlighted problems with tattoos and body piercings – in the USA up to 24% of adults aged 18-50 have tattoos while 14% have body piercings. Tattoo allergies, which are much more common than people think, generally come from the pigment used for the colouring.

Problems with body piercings are more likely to be caused by an allergy to nickel, also on the increase because of the greater use of mobile phones with unlimited usage plans which has led to more prolonged exposure to the nickel in phones.  Patients present with dry, itchy patches on their cheeks, jaw lines and ears but have no idea what is causing the allergic reaction.

Up to 17% of females and 3% of males are thought to be allergic to nickel, a common contact allergen, causing allergic contact dermatitis or eczema. Susceptible people may develop a rash after putting on nickel-plated jewelry, such as earrings, and those used for body piercings. Nickel in coins, watchbands, keys, paper clips, and even spectacle frames can trigger an allergic reaction.

Nickel allergy can affect people of any age, usually starts after prolonged or repeated exposure to substances which have nickel in them and rarely resolves.

November 2010.