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Facts about the skin from DermNet New Zealand Trust. Topic index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Allergy to epoxy resin

What is epoxy resin

Epoxy resin is a chemical that is part of an epoxy resin system. Epoxy resin systems are used widely in industry because of their strong adhesive properties, chemical resistance and toughness. Common two-part epoxy resin systems contain epoxy resin, catalysts/curing agents, and diluents and/or other additives. Any of these chemicals on their own may cause irritant and/or allergic contact reactions. Cured epoxy resin (the fully hardened combination of the epoxy resin system chemicals) should be non-irritating and non-sensitising.

Epoxy-resin system component Features
Epoxy resin (uncured)
  • Common epoxy resin is bisphenol A (made by the condensation of a mixture of polyglycidyl ethers)
  • Little use on its own. Must be further polymerized or cured with agents listed below before becoming useful
  • Bisphenol A cross-reacts with diethylstilbestrol (a hormone present in some pharmaceutical and medical preparations)
Catalysts/curing agents
  • Chemicals that speed the polymerization of epoxy resin to form hard, insoluble products
  • Although there are several chemical groups of curing agents, the amine hardeners appear to be the most potent sensitisers
  • Amine hardeners are particularly useful for curing epoxy resin at room temperature
  • Amine hardeners are highly alkaline solutions and may cause caustic burns on skin contact
Diluents/additives
  • Include epoxy resin diluents, plasticizers, solvents, fillers, pigments and blends of other resins
  • All potential irritants and sensitisers

Where is epoxy resin found?

Most people associate epoxy resin with glues and adhesives. Epoxy glues such as AralditeÔ are becoming popular amongst home DIY'ers and hobbyist. These glues usually come in 2 parts, the hardener and the resin. When mixed, it is claimed that the resulting compound can stick almost anything together. The table below shows other uses of epoxy resin.

Uses of epoxy resin
  • Surface coatings (provide a hard, durable and rustproof surface)
    • Paint for ships and other marine uses
    • Primers for cars
    • Steel pipes
  • Electrical insulation materials (to prevent conduction of electricity)
    • Enclosing transformers, condensers, capacitors and other electrical components
  • Adhesives and glues
    • Widely used across many industries for its strong bonding properties, e.g. aircraft, flooring, road and bridge surfacing, concrete bonding, automobile manufacturers
    • Home DIY, hobbyist, artist, sculptors all find many uses for epoxy glues
    • Used in some dental bonding agents
  • PVC production
    • Some vinyl, plastic and PVC products contain epoxy resins, e.g. eyeglass frames, vinyl gloves, handbags, plastic necklaces

What are the reactions to epoxy resin allergy?

Typical allergic contact dermatitis reactions may occur in individuals allergic to epoxy resin or other components of an epoxy resin system. The uncured epoxy resin, hardener and diluent are powerful irritants and potent sensitisers. Skin contact with the hardening agent may cause severe burns. They can also cause a severe allergic contact dermatitis characterised by redness, swelling and itching. Skin should be washed with soap and water if any contact occurs. In addition, hardeners and diluents are more volatile than resin and may cause allergic reactions from breathing in fumes.

Cured epoxy resins are seldom a problem but it has been found that measurable amounts of uncured reagents may remain in the "cured" resin after 1 week.

Patch tests
Positive patch tests
to epoxy resin and rubber accelerants
Dermatitis
Wrist dermatititis due to
airborne epoxy resin
Dermatitis
Facial dermatitis due to
epoxy-contaminated mask

Am I allergic to epoxy resin?

Epoxy resin allergy is diagnosed from the clinical history and by performing special allergy tests, i.e. patch tests.

Standard patch testing with test epoxy resin material 1% in acetone or petrolatum will usually find 75% of those allergic to epoxy, even though not every epoxy resin has the same chemical structure. The standard test does not test to the hardener, but most individuals allergic to hardeners are also allergic to the resin. Thus screening for epoxy allergy is done using the epoxy resin.

Chances of developing an allergic reaction increase with the amount and concentration of epoxy resin exposure. There is a small risk of causing allergy to develop from patch testing so the tests should only be done in at risk individuals.

Treatment of contact dermatitis due to epoxy resin exposure

If you are diagnosed with epoxy resin allergy then avoid exposure to epoxy containing products, otherwise take means to reduce potential exposure.

Washing the area immediately with soap and water should treat accidental exposure from glue or paints. Sometimes, solvents (acetone, alcohol, or methyl-ethyl ketone) can be used to reduce the exposure. However, routine use of these chemicals is not recommended, as they tend to dry and irritate the skin.

Dermatitis appearing on the skin can be treated as for any acute dermatitis/eczema, i.e. topical corticosteroids, emollients, treatment of any secondary bacterial infection (Staphylococcus aureus), etc.

What should I do to avoid epoxy resin allergy

When using epoxy glues at home, avoid touching the glue and breathing in fumes.

In the workplace try to avoid exposure to epoxy resins, however this may not be practicable. Identify potential sources of exposure using Material Safety Data Sheets; these are required for all chemicals and substances that you may come into contact with in the workplace. To reduce exposure, use special gloves (nitrile rubber or nitrile butatoluene gloves) to protect the hands. Rubber gloves do not help as the resin penetrates through the glove in 30 seconds. Vinyl and neoprene rubber are not totally protective.

Allergy is more likely to liquid (low molecular weight) epoxy resin systems used in paints and coating material than to the those used primarily for structural bonding, which have a higher molecular weight.

If you are highly sensitive to epoxy resin be aware of products that may contain it. Apart from obvious sources such as two-part glues and paints, be wary of items such as vinyl or plastic handbags, gloves and jewellery.

Alert your doctor or dentist to the fact that you have an allergy to epoxy resin. Your dermatologist may have further specific advice, particularly if you are highly sensitive to epoxy resin.

Alternative names for epoxy resin

Epoxy resin is also known by several other names. These include:

Avoid all of these. At work, request a material safety data sheet to help identify potential sources of exposure.

Further information

Sensitiser: uncured epoxy resin

Patch Test:

1% epoxy resin in acetone or petrolatum

Sources of Exposure to Epoxy Resin
  • Adhesives
  • Adhesive tapes
  • Appliance finishes
  • Automotive primers
  • Bridge coatings
  • Dental bonding agents
  • Electrical insulation materials
  • Flame retardants
  • Flooring and wall panel coatings
  • Glues
  • Inks
  • Laminates
  • Model making
  • Paints and primers
  • Plastic products
  • PVC products
  • Surface coatings
  • Varnishes
  • Vinyl products
  • Tools and die casting

Reference

Book: Fisher's Contact Dermatitis. Ed Rietschel RL, Fowler JF. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 2001

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Author: Vanessa Ngan, staff writer

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If you have any concerns with your skin or its treatment, see a dermatologist for advice.