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Keywords:

  • allergic contact dermatitis;
  • cosmetic allergy;
  • fragrances;
  • patch testing;
  • perfumes

Fragrances are widely encountered in our daily environment and are known to be a common cause of allergic contact dermatitis. We have reviewed our patch test data from 1980 to 1996 to establish whether the pattern of fragrance allergy has changed with time. During this period, 25,545 patients (10,450 male, 15,005 female) were patch tested with the European standard series. The mean annual frequency of positive reactions to the fragrance mix was 8·5% in females (range 6·1–10·9) and 6·7% in males (range 5·1–12·9). Females were 1·3 times more likely to be allergic to fragrance (P < 0·001, 95% confidence interval, CI 1·17–1·41). Males with fragrance allergy were older than females by 5·6 years (mean age 48·2 vs. 42·6 years; P < 0·001, 95% CI 3·9–7·3). The incidence of a concomitant positive patch test to balsam of Peru in fragrance-sensitive patients showed wide variation, suggesting that it is not a reliable marker of fragrance allergy. There was a positive correlation between the isomers isoeugenol and eugenol. Oak moss remained the most common overall allergen throughout the study, positive in 38·3% of females and 35·6% of males who were tested to the constituents of the fragrance mix. During the period of the study the incidence of positive tests to oak moss increased by 5% yearly (P = 0·001, 95% CI 2·2–8·7). The frequency of allergic reactions to eugenol and geraniol remained relatively constant. Isoeugenol and alpha-amyl cinnamic aldehyde sensitivity increased and hydroxycitronellal showed a slow decline. There was a striking reduction in the frequency of sensitivity to cinnamic aldehyde (by 18% yearly; P < 0·001, 95% CI 14·3–21·0) and cinnamic alcohol (by 9% yearly; P < 0·001, 95% CI 5·2–12·9); these are now uncommon fragrance allergens. These data show temporal trends which may reflect the frequency of population exposure to individual fragrances.