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Surprising Household Irritants

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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.  

If skin is red and swollen or weeping, “You really need to see somebody right away,” Garner says. “It could be an allergy, like poison ivy, but it could be an infection.”

One last bit of startling advice: “You should never use a household cleaning product on your skin,” Garner says. In the movie, My Big, Fat Greek Wedding, the bride’s father used glass cleaner as an all-purpose skin remedy—and yes, Garner has seen patients do the same.

“You’d be surprised how many people do that,” she says. Some of her patients have also attempted to heal various skin problems by dabbing on gasoline. “It’s making it worse, without a doubt,” Garner says.

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Reviewed on September 13, 2011

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