Toilet Seat Dermatitis Making a Comeback

Jennifer Warner

January 25, 2010

January 25, 2010 — Exotic wooden toilet seats and harsh chemical cleaners may be behind a new resurgence of toilet seat dermatitis, a skin condition once thought to be wiped out in the U.S.

A new study documents five recent cases of toilet seat dermatitis in children, some of whom suffered for years before getting a proper diagnosis.

“Toilet seat dermatitis is one of those legendary conditions described in medical textbooks and seen in underdeveloped countries, but one that younger pediatricians have not come across in their daily practice,” researcher Bernard Cohen, MD, director of pediatric dermatology at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, says in a news release. “If our small analysis is any indication of what’s happening, we need to make sure the condition is on every pediatrician’s radar.”

Toilet Seat Trouble

Toilet seat dermatitis causes skin irritation around the buttocks and upper thighs. If it isn’t treated properly, researchers say discomfort can persist and lead to painful and itchy skin eruptions.

The condition was first described in 1927. At that time, exposure to wooden toilet seats and the associated varnish, lacquers, and paints were to blame for the skin irritation.

In the 1980s and 1990s, most public facilities and homeowners switched from wooden to plastic toilet seats and sanitary seat covers became readily available, which researchers say prompted a dramatic decline in the condition.

But recently, some homeowners have opted for toilet seats made from exotic woods, and there has been an increased use of harsh toilet seat detergents.

In two of the cases described in the study, the children's toilet seat dermatitis had been caused by their school’s use of harsh chemical cleaners, containing ingredients such as didecyl dimethyl ammonium chloride and alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride, which have previously been documented to cause severe skin irritation.

To prevent toilet seat dermatitis, researchers recommend the following steps:

  • Use toilet seat covers in public restrooms, including hospital and school bathrooms. Such covers are widely available in major retail stores. The researchers add that allergy to toilet seat covers has not been reported in the medical literature.

  • Replace wooden toilet seats with plastic ones.

  • Avoid harsh cleaners.


Litvinov, I. Pediatrics, February 2010; vol 125: pp e419-e422.

News release, Johns Hopkins Medicine.