British Society of Cutaneous Allergy (BCSA)

Sodium metabisulfite

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 causes your specific allergy?

Your patch tests indicate that you have a contact allergy to sodium metabisulfite.

What is sodium metabisulfite?

Sodium metabisulfite is a preservative found in some medicated creams, cosmetics, medicines and foods.

What are some products that contain sodium metabisulfite?

  • Steroid creams and ointments such as Trimovate and Timodine
  • Antifungal creams such as Nizoral, Daktarin Gold cream, Daktarin intensive
  • Medicated creams such as Piroxicam gel
  • Foam enemas including Pentasa and Asacol
  • Cosmetics including fake tanning products, skin lighteners, shampoo, make-up, hair dyes
  • Some local anaesthetics, especially those containing epinephrine (adrenaline)
  • Eye drops including Betagan and Yellox
  • Some injections including gentamicin, morphine, chlorpromazine, dexamethasone, dopamine
  • Some medications including Tylex, rifampicin syrup, paracetamol.

In the workplace

  • Food and drink manufacturing and handling
  • Printing, wood, pulp and paper processing
  • Hairdressing products
  • Photographic chemicals
  • Rubber manufacturing, glass making
  • Swimming pool chemicals
  • Water and sewage treatment, cleaning and laundry products.

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 sodium metabisulfite onto your skin in the future.

The most common cause of allergy is from medicated creams. Sodium metabisulfite is used in food products to prevent growth of germs and to prevent discolouration of fresh fruits and vegetables, soft drinks, wine, beer and dried fruits.

It is labelled as E223 when added to foods. However nearly all people with a contact allergy to sodium metabisulfite can eat or drink foods containing E223 without any problems.

If you have an allergy to sodium metabisulfite it is best to avoid related sulfites and bisulfites such as potassium sulfite, potassium bisulfite and sodium sulfite as your skin may react to these too.

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