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Allergy to ammonium persulfate

Author: Vanessa Ngan, Staff Writer, 2013.


What is ammonium persulfate and where is it found?

Ammonium persulfate is a strong oxidizing agent and can be found in a wide variety of industrial and consumer uses. It appears as a white crystalline powder but may be formulated into cream preparations.

Consumer uses

  • Disinfectants and bleaches
  • Bleaching agent for hair colourant and lightener formulations
  • Bleaching and strengthening agent for flour in the baking industry

Industrial uses

  • Printed circuit board etching
  • Activation of copper and aluminium surfaces
  • Initiator for the polymerization of monomers
  • Paper and textile cold bleaching and desizing
  • Decontamination for circuit water system
  • Oxidative degradation of harmful gases
  • Accelerated curing of low formaldehyde adhesives
  • Cleaning agent for laboratory glassware
  • Additive to industrial starch

Is ammonium persulfate safe to use?

Ammonium persulfate is relatively easy and safe to handle. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel has reviewed the use of ammonium persulfate and other persulfates as oxidizing agents in hair colourants and lighteners and has deemed them safe for brief discontinuous use followed by thorough rinsing from the hair and skin. However, it has stated that manufacturers of these products should be aware of the potential for urticarial reactions at concentrations greater than 17.5%.

In a small study of hairdressers, occupational asthma (OA) was found in 51.1% and allergic occupational dermatitis in 36.2% of study participants. Ammonium persulfate was the responsible agent in 87.5% of OA cases. The average overall duration of exposure in the group of hairdressers with OA was 7 years and the average time from the start of exposure to onset of symptoms was 5.3 years. Whilst just over 30% had a family history of allergic disease, none of the patients had previous occupations with possible risk factors for asthma, rhinitis, or dermatitis prior to the becoming hairdressers.

Ammonium persulfate is approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a multipurpose food additive in concentrations less than 0.075%. Although it has been approved for this use in the United States it is currently banned in the European Union, Australia and New Zealand as it has been found to cause contact urticaria in bakers.

Generally, ammonium persulfate is safe to use but some people may have an acute allergic reaction. Immediate urticaria after inhalation or contact appears to occur mainly in patients with a history of asthma. It is also evident from the study of hairdressers that repeated exposure may result in increased sensitivity to the substance, and that an allergic reaction may not become apparent until after many years of exposure.

How does ammonium persulfate allergy present?

Contact urticaria is the most common reaction. Skin that has touched ammonium persulfate becomes red, swollen (wealing) and itchy within a few minutes of exposure. If the ammonium persulfate is washed off, the reaction settles within half an hour or so.

Allergic contact dermatitis may occur. These are delayed and result in itchy, red, blistered or dry skin that can persist for days or longer. Contact dermatitis can build up following repeated exposure to persulfates, becoming increasingly severe.

Eye irritation may occur from airborne ammonium persulfate powder, or from rubbing the eyes when the allergen is on the hands.

Breathing in the powder may cause irritation to the airways and result in conditions such as asthma or rhinitis.

In some people, reactions to ammonium persulfate may be delayed and symptoms may not appear for days or even months or years after repeated exposure. Once ammonium persulfate sensitivity is acquired, it can be a life-time response.

Am I allergic to ammonium persulfate?

Ammonium persulfate allergy is diagnosed from the clinical history and by performing special allergy tests, i.e. prick tests (for contact urticaria) and patch tests (for dermatitis). Patch testing with 2.5% ammonium persulfate in petrolatum is used.

Routine patch testing with ammonium persulfate is not recommended as it may rarely produce a nonspecific, idiosyncratic release of histamine that results in an anaphylactic reaction. Injectable epinephrine (adrenaline) should be readily available when patch testing with ammonium persulfate is performed.

Treatment of ammonium persulfate exposure

If you are diagnosed with ammonium persulfate allergy then avoid exposure to ammonium persulfate-containing products.

Urticarial reactions should be treated immediately with oral antihistamines.

Treatment of contact dermatitis is as for any acute dermatitis/eczema, i.e. topical corticosteroids, emollients, antibiotic treatment of any secondary bacterial infection (Staphylococcus aureus), etc.

What should I do to avoid ammonium persulfate allergy?

Ammonium persulfate in its powdered form is most harmful as it can be breathed in. The following precautions can be followed to reduce exposure.

  • Mix bleach in a well-ventilated area.
  • Where possible use cream-based formulations.
  • Avoid skin contact by wearing vinyl or nitrile rubber gloves during mixing and applying of formulations of ammonium persulfate
  • Use a moisturising cream to protect the hands. Dryness between the fingers is an early sign of contact dermatitis.
  • Train hairdressing staff in the safe use of hairdressing chemicals.

Hairdressing staff should be trained to recognize signs and symptoms of ammonium persulfate allergy and to advise clients to seek immediate medical attention if a reaction occurs.

Alert your hairdresser, employer and doctor to the fact that you have an allergy to ammonium persulfate. Your dermatologist may have further specific advice, particularly if you are highly sensitive.

Alternative names for ammonium persulfate

Ammonium persulfate is also known by several other names. These include:

  • Ammonium peroxydisulfate
  • Diammonium peroxodisulfate
  • Diammonium persulfate
  • Diazanium sulfonatooxy sulfate
  • Peroxydisulfuric acid (((HO)S(O)2)2O2) ammonium salt (1:2)
  • Peroxydisulfuric acid diammonium salt

Further information

Formula: (NH4)2S2O8

CAS number: 7727-54-0


Sensitiser: ammonium persulfate

Patch test: 2.5% ammonium persulfate in petrolatum



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