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Author: Vanessa Ngan, Staff Writer, 2012.
Acrylate is a chemical molecule or monomer that binds together in a process called polymerisation to form plastic materials.
Acrylates in their monomer states are very strong irritants and allergens. The monomers usually come in the form of powders and liquids and when combined in the process of polymerisation make a pliable mixture that can be formed into any shape and then hardened. The polymerised states of acrylates are relatively inert (non-reactive). Polymerised acrylates are usually non-irritant and non-allergenic. It is mainly the liquid, powder or paste that should be avoided.
Acrylates were named Contact Allergen of the Year 2012 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society. According to the selectors “we chose them because acrylates are everywhere in the environment”.
Just a few of the acrylates and their wide range of applications are described here.
Acrylic bone cements are used in orthopaedic surgery; acrylic fibres, films, and inks; solvent-based adhesives and binders; medical spray adhesives; dental technology2-hydroxyethylmethacrylate (HEMA)UV inks; adhesives; lacquers; dental materials; artificial nails; adhesive for false eyelashes and eyebrows; coating for scratch-resistant glass; paint resins; and binders for textiles and paper.
Acrylic resin is used in paint formulations, industrial coatings and latexes; acrylic rubber and plastics; denture materials; floor polishes, sealants; shoe polishes; adhesives; and in textiles and paper coatings.
Ethyleneglycol dimethacrylate is used to make plastic bottles for soft drinks; dental materials; artificial nails; printing inks; automobile antifreeze and engine-cooling liquids.
In individuals allergic to one or more specific acrylates, direct contact with acrylate monomers produces classic allergic contact dermatitis.
Powdered polymer particles can also contain the monomer. The particles may become airborne and cause symptoms such as dermatitis on exposed sites, facial swelling, rhinoconjunctivitis (hay fever) and asthma.
Anyone can develop an allergy to acrylates but the following people are at greater risk:
Acrylate allergy is diagnosed by performing special allergy tests, called patch tests. Methyl methacrylate and ethyl acrylate are now part of the North American Standard Series in the baseline series of patch test allergens and have identified many cases of acrylate allergy. Patch test concentration for methyl methacrylate is 2% in petrolatum and for ethyl acrylate 0.1% in petrolatum.
It is believed that patch testing with methyl methacrylate, 2-hydroxymethyl methacrylate, ethyl acrylate, ethylene dimethacrylate, triethylene glycol diacrylate, and ethyl cyanoacrylate will identify most acrylate allergies.
Acrylate monomers should not be deliberately applied to the skin 'as is' for patch testing, as this risks sensitising the individual, causing a new allergy.
Allergic patch test due to acrylate
Patients with acrylate allergy, and indeed all those handling acrylate monomers, should avoid direct skin contact with them. Exposure can be minimized by wearing gloves and other protective gear. Methylmethacrylate will cross through latex and vinyl gloves within minutes so double gloving is recommended. Nitrile gloves are more protective.
Alert your doctor, pharmacist, dentist, veterinarian, and beautician to the fact that you have an allergy to acrylate.
Your dermatologist may have further specific advice, particularly if you are highly sensitive to an acrylate.
Some of the names for acrylates are:
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