What Chemicals Can Harm Your Skin at Work?

September 10, 2019

Identifying Chemicals and Dermal Exposure to Chemicals

Dermal Exposure to Chemicals and Identifying Chemicals of Concern

The skin is not only the largest organ but also the organ that is most frequently exposed to chemicals. Dermal exposure to hazardous substances can result in a variety of occupational diseases and disorders, including occupational skin diseases (OSD) and systemic toxicity. Historically, efforts to control workplace exposures to hazardous agents have focused on inhalation rather than skin exposure. As a result, assessment strategies and methods are well developed for evaluating inhalation exposures in the workplace while standardized methods are currently lacking for measuring and assessing skin exposures.

sdsBinders Reports You Can Run to Identify Skin Hazards

In sdsBinders, Chemscape’s SDS Management Software, there are 4 Health List reports you can run for skin hazards on chemicals in your inventory and whether there are any health hazards that specifically target the skin. Identification of hazards is the first step in prevention of illness.

These lists are developed by NIOSH and ACGIH. Each health list identifies ingredients of concern for different skin health concerns: Toxicity through absorption, Dermatitis, and Photosensitizers. Let’s review these categories and what each health list is identifying:

Skin Absorption

Skin or dermal absorption is the transport of a chemical from the outer surface of the skin both into the skin and into the body. Studies show that absorption of chemicals through the skin can occur without being noticed by the worker, and in some cases, may represent the most significant exposure pathway. Many commonly used chemicals in the workplace could potentially result in systemic toxicity if they penetrate through the skin (i.e. pesticides, organic solvents). These chemicals enter the bloodstream and cause health problems away from the site of entry. The ability to cause irritation, dermatitis, or sensitization is not considered relevant to this category. The ACGIH Skin Notation 2019 list focuses on Skin Absorption and indicates that an ingredient in the product might be absorbed in toxicologically significant amounts through the skin. It refers to the potential significant contribution of overall exposure through the layers of the skin, as well as mucous membranes and eyes, from airborne exposure to gases, vapor, or liquid OR by direct skin contact.

Skin Sensitizers

Skin sensitizer means a chemical that will lead to an allergic response following skin contact. In contrast to skin irritation, skin sensitization is an immunological response to previous exposure to a substance which results in an inflammatory skin reaction. An allergic skin reaction is usually presented as a red, itchy, bumpy rash. Previous exposure to a specific substance is necessary for skin sensitization. In the first phase, the development of specialized memory cells in the immune system of an individual occurs following the initial exposure to a skin sensitizer. In the second phase, an allergic skin reaction is produced following subsequent exposure to a skin sensitizer. The specialized memory cells produced in the individual’s immune system following the initial exposure respond to the subsequent exposure, i.e., an allergic reaction takes place. The ACGIH Dermal Sensitizers 2019 list focuses on Skin Sensitization. It refers to the potential for an agent to produce skin or dermal sensitization.

NIOSH Skin Target Organ Pocket Guide

The NIOSH Skin Target Organ Pocket Guide list focuses on Skin Harm and is related to the NIOSH pocket guide. The NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards is intended as a source of general industrial hygiene information for workers, employers, and occupational health professionals. The Pocket Guide presents key information and data for 677 chemicals or substance groupings found in the work environment. The industrial hygiene information found in the Pocket Guide should help users recognize and control occupational chemical hazards. The skin target organ reflects the route of entry that is affected by the substance. This could include skin absorption/toxicity, skin irritation, skin sensitization or dermatitis.

Photosensitizing Substances

Photosensitivity is an abnormally high sensitivity of the skin or eyes to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. It can be produced through ingestion, inhalation, or skin contact with substances known as photosensitizers. Photosensitizing substances can be found in industrial chemicals, drugs, plants, and some essential oils and fragrances. Symptoms will vary depending on the level of UV exposure, the type and amount of photosensitizer exposed to, and personal factors such as skin type, age and sex, and previously developed sensitivity. In sdsBinders there is a health report with a Photosensitizing Substances health list that our IH team has compiled that identifies ingredients that cause photosensitivity.

Identifying Skin Irritants and Chemicals Through GHS Pictograms

Other skin health hazards not identified on a health list report are identified by their health classification and GHS Pictogram in sdsBinders and our Chemical Hazard Management Software, CHAMP.


Corrosives which affect the skin are health hazards with their own GHS Pictogram. These are identified by the following GHS Pictograms and Hazard Statements on the SDS, Supplier Label, Workplace Labels.  Additionally, the GHS Pictograms are on the SmartChart posters available from sdsBinders and CHAMP, which affect the skin and are health hazards with their own GHS Pictogram. These are identified by the following GHS Pictograms and Hazard Statements on the SDS, Supplier Label, and Workplace Labels. 

GHS Pictogram

Hazard Statements


H314 Causes severe skin burns and eye damage


Irritants which affect the skin are health hazards with their own GHS Pictogram. These are identified by the following GHS Pictograms and Hazard Statements on the SDS, Supplier Label, and Workplace Labels.  

GHS Pictogram

Hazard Statements


H312 Harmful in contact with skin

H315 May cause skin irritation

H317 May cause an allergic skin reaction


See below for an example SmartChart available in sdsBinders and CHAMP


Ready to elevate the level of occupational health standards for your organization? Get in touch with Chemscape Safety Technologies today to learn more about our chemical management solutions.