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Noninvasive measuring methods for the investigation of irritant patch test reactions. A study of patients with hand eczema, atopic dermatitis and controls.

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Department of Dermatology, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen.


The aim of the study was to assess the susceptibility of clinically normal skin to a standard irritant trauma under varying physiological and patophysiological conditions. Evaluation of skin responses to patch tests with sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) was used for assessment of skin susceptibility. The following noninvasive measuring methods were used for evaluation of the skin before and after exposure to irritants: measurement of transepidermal water loss by an evaporimeter, measurement of electrical conductance by a hydrometer, measurement of skin blood flow by laser Doppler flowmetry, measurement of skin colour by a colorimeter and measurement of skin thickness by ultrasound A-scan. The studies were carried out on healthy volunteers and patients with eczema. In the first studies the standard irritant patch test for assessment of skin susceptibility was characterized and validated. SLS was chosen among other irritants because of its ability to penetrate and impair the skin barrier. The implications of use of different qualities of SLS was investigated. The applied noninvasive measuring methods were evaluated, and for quantification of SLS-induced skin damage measurement of TEWL was found to be the most sensitive method. Application of the standard test on clinically normal skin under varying physiological and patophysiological conditions lead to the following main results: Seasonal variation in skin susceptibility to SLS was found, with increased susceptibility in winter, when the hydration state of the stratum corneum was also found to be decreased. A variation in skin reactivity to SLS during the menstrual cycle was demonstrated, with an increased skin response at day 1 as compared to days 9-11 in the menstrual cycle. The presence of active eczema distant from the test site increased skin susceptibility to SLS, indicating a generalized hyperreactivity of the skin. Taking these sources of variation into account healthy volunteers and patients with hand eczema and atopic dermatits were studied and compared. In healthy volunteers increased baseline TEWL and increased light reflection from the skin, interpreted as "fair" skin, was found to be associated with increased susceptibility to SLS. Hand eczema patients were found to have fairer and thinner skin than matched controls. Increased susceptibility to SLS was found only in patients with acute eczema. Patients with atopic dermatitis had increased baseline TEWL as well as increased skin susceptibility as compared to controls. Skin susceptibility is thus influenced by individual- as well as environment-related factors. Knowledge of determinants of skin susceptibility may be useful for the identification of high-risk subjects for development of irritant contact dermatitis, and may help to prevent the formation of the disease.

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