Salicylate is a chemical found naturally in plants and is the main ingredient of the pain relieving tablet, aspirin. It is also found in many fruits and vegetables as well as in many toiletry and cosmetic products.
Products containing salicylates that may cause contact allergy
The main salicylates used in sunscreens are homomenthyl salicylate (homosalate), ethylhexyl salicylate (octyl salicylate) and trolamine salicylate. They have weak UVB absorbing properties and are generally used in combination with other chemical absorbing sunscreen agents. Salicylates do not protect against UVA.
How does salicylate allergy present?
Salicylates used in sunscreens and other cosmetic products are generally very well tolerated. Allergy to topical salicylate products is uncommon. There have been a few case reports with small numbers of patients whom have reacted to topical salicylate products. Most patients developed classic allergic contact dermatitis.
Am I allergic to salicylate?
Salicylate allergy is diagnosed by performing patch tests with 2% salicylate in olive oil.
Treatment of salicylate allergy
If you are diagnosed with salicylate allergy then avoid exposure to salicylate containing products. Management of salicylate dermatitis may be treated as for any acutedermatitis/eczema; this may include treatment with topical corticosteroids and emollients.
What should I do to avoid salicylate allergy?
Read product labels and avoid products that contain salicylates or any of its derivatives. Ask your pharmacist for advice and a suitable alternative. Your dermatologist may have further specific advice, particularly if you are highly sensitive.
Names for salicylates in topical products
Homomenthyl salicylate (homosalate)
Ethylhexyl salicylate (octyl salicylate)
Formula: homomenthyl salicylate – C16H22O3
CAS number: 118-56-9
Cross reactions: unknown
Appearance: colourless to light yellow iquid
Sensitizer: salicylates and its derivatives
Patch test: 2% salicylate in olive oil
Book: Fisher's Contact Dermatitis. Ed Rietschel RL, Fowler JF. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 2001
Mortz CG, Thormann H, Goossens A, Andersen KE. Allergic contact dermatitis from ethylhexyl salicylate and other salicylates. Dermatitis 21 (2): 7-10