Have you ever gotten, or heard of someone who’s gotten, a skin rash when working with epoxies? Well, that skin rash could well have been a form of epoxy sensitization.
In simple terms, epoxy sensitization describes the process by which your body becomes more and more sensitive to epoxy products and/or the chemicals used in them. Perhaps the most common sign of epoxy sensitization occurs on the skin in the form of rashes; however, irritation to the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs can also occur.
The interesting thing about sensitization in general is that everyone reacts differently. Some become sensitized to certain chemicals very quickly, while others can experience high-level exposure their entire lives and never feel a thing!
Another interesting fact is that sensitization
typically isn’t localized, which means that the symptoms don’t always line up
with the cause. There have been contractors hospitalized, unable to see out of
either eye, yet they didn’t get product anywhere near their face. So how can
you protect yourself?
Avoiding Epoxy Sensitization:
the thought of an itchy skin rash or swollen eyes isn’t very pleasant at all,
and if you want a long, successful career in epoxy application, you must
protect yourself. Here are a few key tips about avoiding epoxy sensitization:
every chemical as though it will cause sensitization and avoid skin contact.
Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. If you get product on your clothing,
then remove the item and wash the affected area with soap and water. If you
wear short-sleeved shirts, then use barrier cream on your arms and hands.
wearing gloves. Many contractors shy away from using disposable latex gloves
because they can be hard to change when their hands become sweaty. An effective
way around this is to put on a thin pair of cotton gloves underneath the latex
gloves, as the cotton absorbs sweat and makes it easier to change. Double
gloving is also an easy way to keep clean: if the top gloves get dirty, you can
just rip them off and keep going. While on the topic of latex gloves, you may
want to buy powder-free gloves, as users can actually develop sensitization to
the powder/sweat combination produced while they work.
as cleanly as possible and wipe dirty items on rags, not shirts or pants. Some
chemicals will cause sensitization much quicker than others. Generally it’s not
the epoxy resin (aka Part A) that causes the problem but the curing agent (aka
Part B). Some curing agents are more reactive than others and can cause
sensitization quickly if not handled carefully. Also, there are certain parts
of your body that are more sensitive than others when it comes to skin contact.
The underside of your forearms is a common point of exposure and often the
first area to show up with a rash. It should go without saying, but as a
reminder: wash your hands before eating or going to the bathroom, as these
regions are also very sensitive.
a mask. This should be a given for solvent-borne users to avoid breathing in
harmful solvents; however, even solvent-less epoxies give off a small amount of
vapor that can build up in confined spaces and cause problems.
not use a solvent to remove epoxy from your skin! If you learn nothing else
from this article, take this away. The solvent breaks down the epoxy and makes
it much easier to remove, but it also makes it much easier to penetrate through
your skin and enter your body. This fact should be kept in mind for
solvent-borne epoxies, as these products already have solvents in them that
make skin contact even more dangerous in this context.
I’m Sensitized. Now What?
so you get that epoxy sensitization isn’t a good thing, and you know how it can
be avoided. What happens if all that fails and you become sensitized, or you’re
reading this and are already sensitized?
If you are already sensitized to epoxies,
then it generally goes one of two ways:
might be lucky and only develop sensitivity to a particular raw material within
the epoxy — something that isn’t found in every product. In this case you can
find a suitable alternative that did the same job and you can continue working
(as long as you’re working cleanly).
- You might be unlucky and become sensitized to
the epoxy resin, which is a much bigger problem because it could mean every epoxy
product is off limits. This situation is the real tragedy of epoxy sensitization
because it can ultimately strip you of your livelihood. Your body is telling you
that it can’t cope with the chemical exposure and, unfortunately, the only
option at this point would be to seek another profession.
From the Start
you want to work in the epoxy industry over a long period, then you need to
develop the right habits from day one: work cleanly, protect your body, clean
up without solvents, and read material safety data sheets to understand what
the potential dangers are. If you ignore any or all of these things, epoxy
sensitization could make your life misery and even spell the end of your
About the Author
Jack Josephsen entered the wider coating
industry in 1999 through his first company, Tech Adhesives. It was set up as a
Research and Development entity that looked at three specific fields of
chemistry: rubber, specialist adhesive primers, and epoxies, of which epoxies
became the primary field of interest. From residential flooring to off-shore
repairs, he has applied his unique “real-world perspective” to every epoxy
field and in doing so built an extensive
knowledge base covering product sales, formulation, manufacturing, application,
training, troubleshooting, and project management. Today, he runs Real
World Epoxies, a company that uses his experience and knowledge in this area to
provide business owners with clarity, direction, and confidence. For more
information, contact: Jack Josephsen, www.realworldepoxies.com