DermNet provides Google Translate, a free machine translation service. Note that this may not provide an exact translation in all languages
Author: Dr Harmony Thompson, Dermatology Registrar, Auckland District Health Board, NZ. Copy edited by Gus Mitchell. December 2021.
Sodium metabisulphite (sodium metabisulfite, sodium pyrosulphite, disodium metabisulphite) is an inorganic compound used as a disinfectant, antioxidant, preservative, bleaching agent, and stabiliser in medications.
It can induce an allergic reaction in humans who are sensitive to sulphites (sulfites), including Type I reactions (anaphylaxis, urticaria, bronchospasm, and gastrointestinal symptoms) and type IV reactions such as allergic contact dermatitis. These reactions may also co-occur.
Occupational exposure may involve:
The most common sources of exposure are personal products (most frequently hair dyes and cosmetic products) and medications.
Approximately 1.4–4.5% of individuals may have a positive reaction, where allergy to sodium metabisulfite is an increasingly recognised cause of allergic contact dermatitis.
Sensitised individuals will develop contact dermatitis on exposure.
The most common primary site of the allergic reaction are the hands and face. The rash can be red, swollen, and vesicles or blisters may develop.
Individuals may also develop systemic reactions to disodium metabisulphite after ingestion, as sulphites can occur naturally in some foods and beverages, and may be added as preservatives. These systemic reactions are rare, but oral intake of sodium metabisulfite in dietary products or medication may be sufficient to cause symptoms such as erythema of intertriginous areas or a more generalised eczematous rash.
Patch testing confirms the diagnosis. Those sensitised will develop a positive result; tests are read 48 and 96 hours after application of the allergen.
Products containing the allergen must be discontinued and avoided. The dermatitis is treated by the application of a topical steroid until the reaction settles.
See allergic contact dermatitis for further information on treatment.
It is essential to avoid products that contain the offending parent allergen (sodium metabisulphite), which may appear in the individual constituents list on the product label or insert. Product manufacturers’ websites usually have a tab that reveals the list of individual constituents, and this is often much easier to read than the fine print on the package label.
Books about skin diseases
© 2022 DermNet New Zealand Trust.
DermNet NZ does not provide an online consultation service. If you have any concerns with your skin or its treatment, see a dermatologist for advice.