How do pine and spruce trees cause allergic contact dermatitis?

Updated: Jun 10, 2021
  • Author: Glen H Crawford, MD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
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The Pinaceae family, which includes pine trees (ie, Pinus species) and spruce trees (ie, Picea species), is a major source of colophony and turpentine.

Allergic contact dermatitis from handling trees is uncommon. Contact dermatitis due to colophony most commonly occurs after contact with medical adhesives. Colophony, or wood rosin, is a sticky amber-colored material derived primarily from distillates of pine stumps. The major use of colophony is as a paper finish to prevent the spreading of ink. The main allergens of colophony are oxidation products of abietic acid and its isomer primaric acid.

Turpentine is an oleoresin derived from various conifers. Gum tapped from the trunk is separated by means of vacuum or steam distillation. Turpentine contains irritants, such as alpha-pinene, and allergens, such as delta-3-carene. The volatile fumes of turpentine cause facial dermatitis, and direct contact with turpentine causes periungual dermatitis.

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