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Contact Dermatitis. 2001 Oct;45(4):226-31.

Irritancy of the skin disinfectant n-propanol.

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Département Hospitalo-Universitaire Romand de Dermatologie et Vénéréologie DHURDV, University Hospital of Geneva, Switzerland.


Hand disinfection with short-chain aliphatic alcohols, so-called "rub-ins" is the method of choice for cross-infection prevention in health care environments, but their irritant potential is not well known. Skin tolerance is a major compliance factor, and a high proportion of health care workers suffer from low-grade irritant contact dermatitis. Therefore, assessment of the irritancy of the skin disinfectant n-propanol 60%, and comparative 100% and 0% solutions, was performed in the setting of experimental low-grade ICD. ICD was induced by overnight patch exposure to H2O, and to 0.3% sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS), in 12 probands, followed by repeated open exposure to the test substances. Outcome variables were transepidermal water loss (TEWL), and skin surface capacitance. On skin sites pre-irritated by SDS, all n-propanol concentrations (100%, 60%, 0%) increased TEWL. However, a clear divergence appeared between pure n-propanol, and the lower concentrations. In contrast to pure n-propanol, n-propanol 60% and 0% had no significant effect on TEWL on H2O-pre-irritated skin sites. Capacitance of pre-irritated skin sites was increased by exposure to H2O-containing n-propanol solutions (60% and 0%). These results show a clear difference between the irritant potential of n-propanol 100% on one side, and n-propanol 60% and 0% on the other side. The level of pre-existent skin irritation is a pertinent factor in susceptibility to irritation, as the irritant potential of n-propanol 60%, the concentration used in daily practice, and n-propanol 0% (water) became significant only on detergent-irritated skin. Thus, preventive skin care may be a constructive approach in increasing tolerance of modern hand disinfection practices.

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