Sensitization to fragrances and essential oils tied to contact dermatitis among massage therapists

GERMANY: A study published in the journal, Contact Dermatitis found that occupational dermatitis in massage therapists frequently resulted in hand dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis, the most common of which were sensitizations to fragrances/essential oils.

Massage therapists are at a greater risk of developing occupational dermatitis (OD) because they are particularly exposed to the ingredients in massage preparations, moist work, and mechanical strain. Poorer quality of life and costly financial repercussions for the individual and society are frequently associated with OD. As a result, it’s critical to create focused methods for the management and prevention of OD in high-risk occupations.

The purpose of this study was to provide a more detailed description of the sensitization pattern that currently exists in massage therapists with OD in order to identify potentially dangerous workplace exposures and to re – evaluate recommendations for OD prevention and patch testing in this occupational group.

The Network of Departments of Dermatology (IVDK, 2008-2020) collected patch test data on patients with OD, including 128 massage therapists and 24,374 patients in other professions. Reactions rates were normalized to age and sex in order to enable comparison of sensitization frequencies to allergens of the DKG baseline series between massage therapists with OD and all other patients with OD. In the dermatology departments that joined the IVDK, 1,48,496 patients had patch tests, and 24,502 of them tested positive for OD.

Key findings of the research:

  • Among massage therapists with OD, hand dermatitis (91.4%) and allergic contact dermatitis (34.4%) were prevalent.
  • Sensitizations to perfumes and essential oils were the most prevalent, occurring in 54 (42.2%) massage therapists, more frequently than in other OD patients.
  • Numerous essential oils and perfumes frequently had concomitant positive effects.
  • Sensitizations to fragrances/essential oils were only identified with specific scent series in 8 (14.8%) of the 54 massage therapists.

“Our data support the notion that hand dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis are the predominant complaints of massage therapists with OD. Fragrances and essential oils, which are included in both the standard series and the specific fragrance series, are the most significant allergens,” the authors concluded.

The possibility of sensitization from fragranced massage preparations should be made clear to massage practitioners. Testing should include a wide range of fragrances/essential oils in addition to the baseline series and the patients’ own items when OD is suspected, they added.


Brans, R, Schröder-Kraft, C, Bauer, A, et al. Contact sensitizations in massage therapists with occupational contact dermatitis: Patch test data of the Information Network of Departments of Dermatology, 2008–2020. Contact Dermatitis. 2022; 1- 11. doi:10.1111/cod.14218 

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