Benzyl Alcohol Allergy: Importance of Patch Testing with Personal Products

Endea J. Curry; Erin M. Warshaw


Dermatitis. 2005;16(4):203-208. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Benzyl alcohol is a weak sensitizer found in a wide array of plants and plant products, foods, cosmetics, and medications. Delayed contact dermatitis reactions as well as immediate, urticarial, and systemic reactions have been reported to occur with its use in these various formulations. We present the case of a woman with allergic contact dermatitis from benzyl alcohol and a brief review of allergy to this chemical.

Benzyl alcohol is an aromatic alcohol found in many naturally occurring plant products such as balsam of Peru. It is also a component of essential oils such as hyacinth, jasmine, and ylang-ylang oils and of foods such as apricots, cranberries, cocoa, honey, mushrooms, and snap peas.[1–3] In topical preparations, benzyl alcohol may function as a preservative, solvent, and/or anesthetic, as well as a viscosity-decreasing agent. Its structure consists of an aromatized benzene ring with an attached hydroxylated carbon (fig1). Its physical and chemical properties suit its use as a preservative in medical solutions, over-the-counter medications, topical creams and lotions, fragrances, and cosmetics.[2]

Structure of benzyl alcohol.

In 1998, the Food and Drug Administration listed benzyl alcohol as an ingredient in 322 cosmetic formulations, including baby toiletries, mascaras, hair dyes, and other skin care products.[1] The Danish Product Register, a European chemical database, listed benzyl alcohol as a chemical primarily found in hardeners, paints and lacquers, photographic developers, toiletries, and products containing binders.[4] Despite its widespread use, reports of allergy to benzyl alcohol are relatively rare.[5] We report a patient with an allergy to benzyl alcohol, discuss the importance of patch testing with personal products and the investigation of synonyms, and present a brief review of the literature regarding benzyl alcohol.


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