British Society of Cutaneous Allergy (BCSA)

Sorbic Acid

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 sorbic acid.

What is sorbic acid?

Sorbic acid is a commonly used preservative used in many different settings, both in products applied to the skin but also in tablets and many foods/drinks.

What are some products that contain sorbic acid?

  • cosmetic creams/ ointments and other personal care products such as wipes/ shampoos/ body washes/ toothpaste
  • prescription creams/ ointments such as topical steroids, moisturizers, antibiotic creams
  • glues, inks, paints, varnishes, metal working fluids, rubber, gloss coatings, some paper and cardboard
  • some tanning agents
  • food and drink such as cheese, bread, wine, refrigerated meat and shellfish, canned foods, prepared salads.


  • Balneum cream
  • Dermol bath emollient
  • Emulsiderm
  • Oilatum cream
  • Oilatum junior cream
  • Unguentum M
  • Zeroguent

Topical Steroids

  • Fucidin H cream
  • Trimovate cream.

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 sorbic acid onto your skin in the future.

The usual problem with sorbic acid allergy is itchy skin at the site of contact with a substance containing this chemical. It is unlikely to cause any worrying problems if you eat something that contains sorbic acid, however potentially it could cause a flare of eczema/ itchy skin.

Sorbic acid and its related chemicals are also given ‘E numbers’ to identify them in foods and products: E200 (sorbic acid); E201 (sodium sorbate); E202 (potassium sorbate); E203 (calcium sorbate).

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: 2017