Contact dermatitis

Skin sensitizing properties of the ethanolamines mono-, di-, and triethanolamine. Data analysis of a multicentre surveillance network (IVDK) and review of the literature.

PMID 19397616


Numerous publications address the skin sensitizing potential of the short chain alkanolamines triethanolamine (TEA), diethanolamine (DEA), monoethanolamine (MEA), which are not skin sensitizing according to animal studies. Regarding TEA, we analysed patch test data of 85,098 patients who had been tested with TEA 2.5% petrolatum by Information Network of Departments of Dermatology (IVDK) to identify particular exposures possibly associated with an elevated risk of sensitization. Altogether, 323 patients (0.4%) tested positive. The profile of patch test reactions indicates a slightly irritant potential rather than a true allergic response in many cases. Although used widely, no exposure associated with an increased risk of TEA sensitization was identified. Therefore, the risk of sensitization to TEA seems to be very low. MEA and DEA were patch tested in a much more aimed fashion in 9602 and 8791 patients, respectively when prevalence of contact allergy was 3.8% and 1.8%. MEA is the prominent allergen in metalworkers with exposure to water-based metalworking fluids (wbMWFs); DEA is probably used in cutting fluids less frequently nowadays. Chronic damage to the skin barrier resulting from wbMWF, the alkalinity of ethanolamines (increasing from TEA to MEA), and other cofactors may contribute to a notable sensitization risk.