British Society of Cutaneous Allergy (BCSA)

Potassium Dichromate (Chromium)

What are the aims of this patient information leaflet?

This leaflet has been written to help you understand more about your contact allergy. It tells you what a contact allergy is, what causes this allergy and what you can do about it.

What is contact allergy?

Dermatitis, also known as eczema, describes a type of inflammation of the skin. Contact dermatitis or contact eczema is a term used when this inflammation is caused by direct or indirect skin contact with something in your environment. Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when your immune system causes allergy to a very specific chemical or substance that has been in contact with the skin.

What are some products that contain potassium dichromate (chromium)?

  • Tanned leather in shoes, gloves, jackets, belts, watch straps, leather steering wheel covers and furniture. Approximately 90% of leathers are chromate- tanned but leathers that are vegetable-tanned will be fine to wear.
  • Cement. European legislation has limited the amount of chromate present in cement, but it can still cause a problem
  • Cosmetics including some eyeshadows and mascaras (unlikely to be labelled as containing chromium)
  • Chromium plated metals (may be called chrome) including mobile phones, screws, fittings, construction materials, sheet metal and musical instrument strings
  • Joint replacement prostheses e.g. for hip and knee; remember to inform your surgeon.

Other less common sources of exposure to chromium include:

  • ¬†Tattoos (may be in some green pigments)
  • Chromic suture material (catgut, rarely used)
  • Household products, bleaches and detergents
  • Primer paints and wood preservatives
  • Textiles especially in military green colours
  • Welding and electroplating
  • Boiler linings and foundry sand
  • Glass polishes, glass stains and glazing materials
  • Matches
  • Magnetic tapes
  • Printing inks and photocopying inks
  • Pottery glazes and lacquers.

Remember, always check the label, these lists can never be complete and ingredients change.

How can I manage my allergy?

This means that you should avoid putting products containing potassium dichromate (chromium) onto your skin in the future.

If you take steps to avoid chromium it is likely that your skin will improve. However in some cases the dermatitis can remain. The reason why this occurs is uncertain, but it is more likely if your dermatitis is severe and chronic.

If you have foot dermatitis you will need to avoid chromate-leather shoes and find vegetable-tanned leather shoes instead. It may be difficult to know whether leather has been chromate- or vegetable-tanned but there are some manufacturers who do specify that their products are vegetable-tanned. Further details can be found after a quick internet search. Plastic or fabric shoes may be alternatives. Vegan shoe manufacturers are a useful resource.

Self-care (what can I do?)

Always check the ingredient listing on the product, package or package insert as these lists can never be complete and ingredients change. This is particularly important for any products purchased outside the EU where some allergens may not be banned.

Created: 2016