Allergy to acrylates

Author: Vanessa Ngan, Staff Writer, 2012.

What is an acrylate?

An acrylate is a chemical molecule or monomer that binds together in a process called polymerization to form plastic materials. 

Acrylates in their monomer states are very strong irritants and allergens. The monomers usually come in the form of powders and liquids and when combined in the process of polymerization make a pliable mixture that can be formed into any shape and then hardened. The polymerized states of acrylates are relatively inert (non-reactive). Polymerised acrylates are usually non-irritant and non-allergenic. It is mainly the liquid, powder or paste that should be avoided.

Acrylates were named Contact Allergen of the Year 2012 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society. According to the selectors “we chose them because acrylates are everywhere in the environment”. 

Where is acrylate found?

Just a few of the acrylates and their wide range of applications are described here.

Methyl methacrylate

Acrylic bone cements used in orthopaedic surgery; acrylic fibres, films, and inks; solvent-based adhesives and binders; medical spray adhesives; dental technology2-hydroxyethylmethacrylate (HEMA)UV inks; adhesives; lacquers; dental materials; artificial nails; coating for scratch-resistant glass; paint resins; binders for textiles and paper

Ethyl acrylate

Acrylic resin used in paint formulations, industrial coatings and latexes; acrylic rubber and plastics; denture materials; floor polishes, sealants; shoe polishes; adhesives; textiles and paper coatings

Ethyleneglycol dimethacrylate

Plastic bottles for soft drinks; dental materials; artificial nails; printing inks; automobile antifreeze and engine-cooling liquids

How does acrylate allergy present?

In individuals that are allergic to one or more specific acrylates, direct contact with acrylate monomers produces classic allergic contact dermatitis.

  • The dermatitis is usually confined to the area of contact and may cause itching, burning, scaling, hives, and blistering.
  • Usually the fingers and the hands are the areas most affected from handling the acrylate monomer.
  • In some cases eczema may occur away from the site of contact as the result of transportation of monomer residues by the hands to other parts of the body such as the face (for example, acrylic nails may cause dermatitis on the eyelids, face or neck).

Powdered polymer particles can also contain the monomer. The particles may become airborne and cause symptoms such as dermatitis on exposed sites,  facial swelling, rhinoconjunctivitis (hay fever) and asthma.

Who is at risk of acrylate allergy?

Anyone can develop an allergy to acrylates but the following are at greater risk.

Am I allergic to an acrylate?

Acrylate allergy is diagnosed by performing special allergy tests, called patch tests. Methyl methacrylate and ethyl acrylate are now part of the North American Standard Series in the baseline series of patch test allergens and have identified many cases of acrylate allergy. Patch test concentration for methyl methacrylate is 2% in petrolatum and for ethyl acrylate 0.1% in petrolatum.

It is believed that patch testing with methyl methacrylate, 2-hydrorxymethyl methacrylate, ethyl acrylate, ethylene dimethacrylate, triethylene glycol diacrylate, and ethyl cyanoacrylate will identify most acrylate allergies.

Acrylate monomers should not be deliberately applied to the skin 'as is' for patch testing, as this risks sensitising the individual, causing a new allergy.

Allergic patch test due to acrylate

Treatment of acrylate allergy

Confirmation of acrylate allergy requires the removal of the causative agent and management as for any acute dermatitis/eczema; this may include treatment with topical corticosteroid and emollient.

What should I do to avoid acrylate allergy?

Patients with acrylate allergy, and indeed all those handling acrylate monomers, should avoid direct skin contact with them. Exposure can be minimized by wearing gloves and other protective gear. Methylmethacrylate will cross through latex and vinyl gloves within minutes so double gloving is recommended. Nitrile gloves are more protective.

Alert your doctor, pharmacist, dentist, veterinarian, and beautician to the fact that you have an allergy to acrylate.

Your dermatologist may have further specific advice, particularly if you are highly sensitive to an acrylate.

Alternative names for acrylate

Some of the names for acrylates are:

  • Methyl methacrylate
  • Ethyl acrylate
  • 2-hydroxyethylmethacrylate (HEMA)
  • Triethyleneglycol dimethacrylate
  • Ethyleneglycol dimethacrylate
  • Bisphenol A glycerolate dimethacrylate (BIS-GMA)
  • Ethylene dimethacrylate
  • Triethylene glycol diacrylate
  • Ethyl cyanoacrylate.


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