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Contact Dermatitis. 2007 Oct;57(4):235-41.

Effects of disinfectants and detergents on skin irritation.

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Department of Dermatology, Philipp-University, Marburg, Germany.


We investigated the biological response of regular human skin to alcohol-based disinfectants and detergents in a repetitive test design. Using non-invasive diagnostic tools such as transepidermal water loss, laser-Doppler flowmetry and corneometry, we quantified the irritative effects of a propanol-based hand disinfectant (Sterillium), its propanol mixture (2-propanol 45% w/w and 1-propanol 30% w/w), sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) 0.5% and distilled water. The substances were applied in a 2-D patch test in a repetitive occlusive test design to the back. Additionally, we performed a wash test on the forearms that was supposed to mimic the skin affection in the normal daily routine of health care workers. In this controlled half-side test design, we included the single application of the hand rub, SLS 0.5% and water as well as a tandem application of the same substances. Patch test and wash test showed similar results. The alcohol-based test preparations showed minimal irritation rather comparable to the application of water. However, the detergent SLS produced stronger barrier disruption, erythema and dryness than the alcohol-based preparations. There was no additional irritation at the combined use of SLS and disinfectants. By contrary, there was even a decrease in barrier disruption and erythema induced by the tandem application of SLS followed by alcohol-based disinfection compared with the use of SLS alone. These findings show a less irritant effect of alcohol-based disinfectants on the skin than detergents. Our study shows that there is no summation of irritating effects of a common detergent and propanol and that the combination of washing and disinfection has a rather protective aspect compared with washing alone.

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