I have always been prone to skin irritations since I was a little girl. During my mid teens in the 60s I contracted quite bad dermatitis on the backs of my hands. This manifested itself on the palms of my hands too, at times, and no-one seemed to be able to discover the cause of the irritation, the resulting blisters and weeping skin. Skin specialists recommended various creams and potions including tar ointments, pure lanolin, various other forms of similar creams and ultimately full strength cortisone ointment which seemed to be the only thing that reduced the itch and the inflammation. I continued to use the cortisone ointment on my hands from that time until only a few years back when I decided to speak to a dermatologist here in Canberra. During the period of those years my hands fluctuated in the severity of irritation, sometimes really bad, and at other times less severe.

The dermatologist did a skin patch test in which I had to leave various substances on my skin for a week without touching or removing the patches. During that week I returned to the dermatologist on the Wednesday and the Friday to check the reactions. On the Wednesday there were two substances that had caused a slight pink spot on my skin. However, by the Friday these two had increased in redness and another one had begun to cause inflammation of the skin.

The three offending chemicals turned out to be:

Formaldehyde - used in large amounts in many plastic industries, building materials, eg paints, glues, varnishes, some pesticides. It is also found in small amounts in cosmetics, eg creams, shampoos, make-up, nailpolish, new fabrics and clothes, high quality paper, house-hold cleaners, disinfectants and in smoke from cigarettes or fires.

Quaternium-15 found in creams, lotions, shampoos, and other cosmetics and skin care products.

Colophony - found in adhesives, sealants, shoe wax, lacquers, gums, varnishes, pine oil cleaners, cosmetics, wart remedies, skiwax, dental floss, modelling clay, paints, resins, athletic rubs, and many industrial products. High quality gloss paper may be coated with colophony.

Well! We came to the conclusion that my chronic dermatitis of the hands (at this stage, and certainly consistently since my late teens) was caused by contact with resin steering wheels. The irritation was particularly obvious during the hot summer months.

During the week following my diagnosis I wore cotton gloves when driving. I have had no recurrence of the problem since then (approximately 7 years now). My car has a pure sheepskin steering wheel cover - my husband can't stand the feel of it, yet I can't stand to drive the car without it. I must admit I was amazed to discover the cause after all those years! - by email, Canberra