Skin SensitivityA Specific Toxicological Concern

One further problem of topical formulations associated with many ingredients and of special concern with preservatives is the development of skin sensitivity (84). The skins of some individuals are particularly susceptible to an allergic conditioning to chemicals known as type IV contact hypersensitivity. Haptens (chemicals like urushiol found in poison ivy) are absorbed through the skin and, while in the local tissues, chemically react with local proteins. Langerhans cells, the local cells involved in immunological surveillance, identify these now denatured proteins as foreign (nonhost). The Langerhans cells then leave the dermis by way of the lymphatics and enter the draining lymph node, where they complete the sensitization process by passing the allergen message on to resident lymphocytes (antigen presentation). Once sensitized, subsequent contact with the offending chemical (hapten) leads to inflammation and skin eruption. Many of the preservatives used in pharmacy are phenols and comparably reactive substances, compounds that have a high propensity to sensitize susceptible individuals. The pharmacist should be alert to this possibility and prepared to recommend discontinuance of therapy and physician referral when allergic outbreak is evident or suspected. Moreover, the pharmacist should be ready to recommend alternative products that do not contain an allergically offending substance once it has been identified, assuming of course that therapeutically suitable alternatives exist.

Allergic incidents are widespread and, from an allergy standpoint, it is useful that the ingredients of dermatological medications are listed on the package or in the package insert. This allows the pharmacist to screen products for their suitability for individuals with known sensitivities. OTC medications and cosmetics also contain a qualitative listing of their ingredients. The pharmacist thus has access to critical information he or she needs to safeguard patients relative to their known hypersensitivity.

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