Office Supplies & Computer Accessories

If you have allergic skin, the typical work desk can be a bit of a contact allergen minefield…


So common that it’s rare for any metal not to have some nickel in it, this allergen has been the number one contact allergen for many years. Some good news: in very high-quality metals, the nickel is bonded very well. This significantly reduces the chances of the nickel being rubbed off. This is important because nickel is dissolved by sweat (a “microbial corrosion”), resulting in its absorption and penetration into the skin, which is what causes the allergic reaction. If you’ve patch tested positive for nickel, consider a nickel and cobalt spot test. There are also new barrier creams that block nickel and cobalt ions, but check the ingredients list: while fragrance-free, some contain preservatives.

Watch for nickel in…

  • Your computer’s metal parts
  • Accessories like laptop and phone casings, headphones, hard drives, USB ports, mouse exteriors — these may use cheaper metals to make them more affordable
  • Your chair’s armrests
  • Eyeglass frames
  • Pen parts, scissors, paper clips, staplers, staples

Cleaners and Polishers

Lots of furniture polishers are scented. If you’ve patch tested positive to fragrance, be careful when rubbing down your desk. If your cleaning solution comes in a spray, be wary of aerosolized particles that could also cause airborne contact dermatitis and hyperpigmentations (fragrances are also top photo-allergens which can cause dark patches on the skin).

Computer and monitor disinfecting solutions might contain other ingredients that aren’t allergens but that are irritants such as alcohol or substances related to chlorine.

Some cleaning wipes may even contain MCI/MI (methylisothiazolinone), a potent contact allergen used as a preservative.


Rubber, a common contact allergen, and rubberized plastic give hard surfaces a bit of a cushion (and there are many rubber-related things like thiuram and carba mix that are allergens). Look out for…

  • Rubber or rubberized plastic cases for your tablet, laptop, or phone
  • Soft-grips on pens and travel mugs
  • The exterior of your water bottle
  • Your office seat cushion or armrests
  • Buttons that have softer or cushier exteriors
  • Stress balls
  • Erasers
  • Mouse pads
  • Rubber bands
  • Rubber-coated paper clips


Many dyes are top contact allergens and many colored items contain benzophenones to prevent color degradation from light exposure:

  • Colored post-its and papers
  • Inks
  • Colored rubber bands, computer accessories, chair fabric, the exterior of pens and pencils…anything that’s brightly colored

Sticky Stuff

Epoxies, acrylates, and formaldehydes (including formaldehyde releasers). These and other allergens are present in:

  • Multiple types of glues, from school pastes to extreme-hold glues
  • Nail, wig, and lash adhesives
  • Bandages and tapes
  • Glues used in shoes, bags, and jewelry (including computer, tablet, and phone casings)
  • Wood glues
  • Glues in inks and paints (the adhesives make the color stick to the application surface)
  • …most substances intended to make something stick to another thing.
  • If you have patch tested positive for substances in glues and adhesives, take care to avoid them, particularly when wet, as reactions can be severe and affect more than skin.

Other Not-Good Things For Your Skin

The above are just the top contact allergens. There other unhealthy things for your skin in a typical work desk setting:

  • Indoor lights cause hyperpigmentations. This includes the UVA that comes through your windows but also the visible light from your lamps, reading lights, and overhead lights, and the lights from your tablet, computer monitor, phone, and TV.
  • Chronic contact with your chair seat if it is brightly colored, leather, or denim, or even from the foam (if these are your allergens) can also cause pigmented contact dermatitis. PCD is more common in people with darker or mixed phototypes. It can be misdiagnosed because it does not go through the usual redness, then itching and thickening of the skin. Instead, over time the skin just darkens. People don’t usually complain about it or see a doctor for it because PCD develops slowly over time. What can help with a diagnosis is looking at skin darkening on the areas of contact with things that you don’t tend to think you come into contact with as much…such as your chair seat. This is more true where your exposed skin comes into contact with the seat. Wearing clothing that covers you up more or draping an organic, light-colored or uncolored natural fabric over the seat may help unless the cloth itself contains your allergens.
  • Hours at your desk can also promote bad eating, poor sleep, and lack of exercise, all of which are inflammatory. Inflammation can cause acne and trigger flare-ups.

If you have a history of sensitive skin, don’t guess: random trial and error can cause more damage. Ask your dermatologist about a patch test.

To shop our selection of hypoallergenic products, visit Need help? Ask us in the comments section below, or for more privacy (such as when asking us to customize recommendations for you based on your patch test results) contact us by email, or drop us a private message on Facebook.

For more:

On the prevalence of skin allergies, see Skin Allergies Are More Common Than Ever and One In Four Is Allergic to Common Skin Care And Cosmetic Ingredients.

To learn more about the VH-Rating System and hypoallergenicity, click here.

Main References: 

Regularly published reports on the most common allergens by the North American Contact Dermatitis Group and European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies (based on over 28,000 patch test results, combined), plus other studies. Remember, we are all individuals — just because an ingredient is not on the most common allergen lists does not mean you cannot be sensitive to it, or that it will not become an allergen. These references, being based on so many patch test results, are a good basis but it is always best to get a patch test yourself.

1. Warshaw, E.M., Maibach, H.I., Taylor, J.S., et al. North American contact dermatitis group patch test results: 2011-2012. Dermatitis. 2015; 26: 49-59

2. W Uter et al. The European Baseline Series in 10 European Countries, 2005/2006–Results of the European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies (ESSCA). Contact Dermatitis 61 (1), 31-38.7 2009

3. Wetter, DA et al. Results of patch testing to personal care product allergens in a standard series and a supplemental cosmetic series: An analysis of 945 patients from the Mayo Clinic Contact Dermatitis Group, 2000-2007. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2010 Nov;63(5):789-98.

4. Verallo-Rowell VM. The validated hypoallergenic cosmetics rating system: its 30-year evolution and effect on the prevalence of cosmetic reactions. Dermatitis 2011 Apr; 22(2):80-97

5. Ruby Pawankar et al. World Health Organization. White Book on Allergy 2011-2012 Executive Summary.

6. Misery L et al. Sensitive skin in the American population: prevalence, clinical data, and role of the dermatologist. Int J Dermatol. 2011 Aug;50(8):961-7.

7. Warshaw EM1, Maibach HI, Taylor JS, Sasseville D, DeKoven JG, Zirwas MJ, Fransway AF, Mathias CG, Zug KA, DeLeo VA, Fowler JF Jr, Marks JG, Pratt MD, Storrs FJ, Belsito DV. North American contact dermatitis group patch test results: 2011-2012.Dermatitis. 2015 Jan-Feb;26(1):49-59.

8. Warshaw, E et al. Allergic patch test reactions associated with cosmetics: Retrospective analysis of cross-sectional data from the North American Contact Dermatitis Group, 2001-2004. J AmAcadDermatol 2009;60:23-38. 

9. Foliaki S et al. Antibiotic use in infancy and symptoms of asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, and eczema in children 6 and 7 years old: International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood Phase III. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2009 Nov;124(5):982-9.

10. Kei EF et al. Role of the gut microbiota in defining human health. Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2010 Apr; 8(4): 435–454.

11. Thavagnanam S et al. A meta-analysis of the association between Caesarean section and childhood asthma. Clin Exp Allergy. 2008;38(4):629–633.

12. Marks JG, Belsito DV, DeLeo VA, et al. North American Contact Dermatitis Group patch-test results, 1998 to 2000. Am J Contact Dermat. 2003;14(2):59-62.

13. Warshaw EM, Belsito DV, Taylor JS, et al. North American Contact Dermatitis Group patch test results: 2009 to 2010. Dermatitis. 2013;24(2):50-99.

Want more great information on contact dermatitis? Check out the American Contact Dermatitis SocietyDermnet New Zealand, and your country’s contact dermatitis association.

DrVR LVB 8rDF Bertotto8106e 5May2014 20191023Laura is our “dew”-good CEO at VMV Hypoallergenics and eldest daughter of VMV’s founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist. She has two children, Madison and Gavin, and works at VMV with her sister CC and husband Juan Pablo (Madison and Gavin frequently volunteer their “usage testing” services). In addition to saving the world’s skin, Laura is passionate about health, inclusion, cultural theory, human rights, happiness, and spreading goodness (like a great cream!)



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