BACKGROUND: With the growing use of cosmetics such as skin care products, toiletries, makeup products, fragrance on an expanding population, reports of unwanted side effects following application of these products is increasing. Allergic contact dermatitis commonly occurs with the use of cosmetics. However, treatment is extremely difficult without knowing the exact causative agent. Therefore, it is important to detect and clarify such agents in order to treat and ultimately prevent allergic contact dermatitis. OBJECTIVE: We attempted to find the popular causative factors of allergic contact dermatitis, especially within cosmetics, and compare the findings with previous Korean and international reports involving allergic contact dermatitis. METHODS: Patch test results of 332 patients suspected of having allergic contact dermatitis related to cosmetics were reviewed. The patients visited 3 hospitals in the Catholic medical center in Korea between 2000 and 2003. The patch tests adopted were of the standard series, cosmetic series, and test samples made from the patient's own cosmetics. RESULTS: The results of this study are summarized as follows; 1. Among allergens of the standard series, nickel sulfate induced the highest positive patch test results (30.5%) within the 321 patients who were tested followed by potassium dichromate, thimerosal and cobalt chloride. 2. Thimerosal showed the highest positive patch test rate (9.2%), followed by octyl gallate and t-butylhydroquinone in a cosmetic series patch test study with 109 patient. 3. A trial patch test with cosmetics from our own patients was made. Among the type of cosmetics to induce a positive patch test, skin care products constituted 47.8%, marking the highest proportion. However, toiletries were the most potent in inducing a positive test result. 4. Correlated to the patch test results from previous Korean and international studies, skin care products most commonly caused allergic contact dermatitis as in our study. However, personal cleanliness products were more common in causing allergic contact dermatitis in our study than in previous Korean and international studies. CONCLUSION: Although skin care products are most prevalent in causing allergic contact dermatitis, the prevalence of allergic contact dermatitis due to toiletries is increasing. This was a clear contrast to the result of previous Korean and international studies. The possibility of allergic contact dermatitis due to toiletries should not be overlooked.
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