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Surprising Household Irritants


It’s often tough to figure out the exact source because many women use multiple eye cosmetics, as well as eye makeup remover and eye creams, Garner says. Patients can get into a vicious cycle. “They start getting a skin rash—usually a very itchy rash—and then people keep putting their cosmetics on to hide it, which actually keeps the rash going.” The best thing is to take a break from all eye products and let the skin heal, she says.

Antibiotic ointments: “Big problems through real allergies,” Garner says of these over-the-counter products. Many households treat cuts and scrapes with triple antibiotic ointments that contain neomycin, bacitracin and polymixin B.

But neomycin and bacitracin are common allergens, according to Garner. “It’s especially a problem because you’re putting that on injured skin. Whenever you put anything on injured skin, you’re more likely to react to it.”

The reaction often looks like “poison ivy on top of their cut,” she says. “Most people think it’s infected when that happens, but really, they’ve developed an allergy.”

Bandages: When some people apply bandages to the same patch of skin, they can develop irritation after a while, according to Garner. “They’ll end up with sensitivity to the bandage adhesives.”

Nickel:  Many people notice an itchy, prickly rash on their finger after wearing a ring. Or certain earrings will irritate their earlobes. Most likely, they’re reacting to nickel, which shows up in jewelry and many other metal items.

But most people don’t know that skin can also react to nickel in zippers, buttons, clothing snaps and belt buckles. Garner has even seen a flute player whose lips developed a reaction after coming into contact with nickel in the instrument.   

Plants:  Many plants can cause irritant reactions or true allergic reactions, Garner says. Of course, poison ivy is a well-known villain, causing a rash and blisters through a plant oil called urushiol.

But seemingly ordinary plant matter, including tulip bulbs, garlic, and mango rinds can also cause skin reactions in certain people.

Rubber: Rubber products, which can be found throughout the home, can provoke allergic contact dermatitis marked by itching, burning or hives. “You can be allergic to the mouse pad, to swim goggles, your shoes—your tennis shoes have rubber insoles,” Garner says.

How can you tell what’s causing your contact dermatitis?

If you can figure out what’s causing your skin irritation or allergy, you can avoid contact with the substance and let your skin heal.

But it’s not always easy to pinpoint the source on your own--just ask the lime juice patients. “These types of skin problems can be difficult to tease out,” Garner says.

If your skin doesn’t heal in a couple of weeks or it’s getting worse, see a dermatologist, Garner says. Don’t let dermatitis go on too long, she says. Some of her patients have spent several months futilely trying to hide irritated eyelids with makeup before they seek medical help.  

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