Allergy to salicylates

Author: Vanessa Ngan, staff writer, 2012.

What are salicylates and where are they found?

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.

What are the reactions to salicylate allergy?

Salicylates used in sunscreen products 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 salicylates?

Salicylate allergy is diagnosed by performing special allergy tests, i.e. 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 acute dermatitis/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

Further information

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

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