Leather Allergy


Some people notice that they develop contact dermatitis after sitting on a leather couch for quite some time or wearing leather shoes the whole day.

These people are allergic to leather or more specifically to the chemical dimethyl fumarate.

What is dimethyl fumarate?

Dimethyl fumarate is the chemical compound manufacturers use to prevent mold from developing in leather materials.

It is often packaged in sachets and installed in leather couches and shoe boxes in order to prevent the growth of mold.

This white crystalline powder is what people are allergic to and after repeated exposure to this chemical these people will develop either allergic contact dermatitis or irritant contact dermatitis.

  • Allergic contact dermatitis is a delayed skin reaction. Oftentimes the symptoms occur 12 to 72 hours after exposure to the allergen. The skin becomes sensitive and develops a reaction after being exposed again to the allergen.
  • Irritant contact dermatitis is when the skin is exposed to the allergen repeatedly and develops a reaction. Oftentimes skin damage occurs when the individual is exposed to the allergen.

Allergy to dimethyl fumarate is also known as “sofa dermatitis” due to the location of the rashes.

The red swollen, scaly and itchy patches of skin are often found in the patient’s back, buttocks and the back of the legs because these are the areas of the body that come into contact with the leather couch.

But dimethyl fumarate can also seep through a person’s clothes so even if an individual is sitting on a leather couch with his pants on his allergy can still be triggered.

One of the largest contributors of dimethyl fumarate is China when a number of individuals suffered severe allergic reactions to their leather furniture that were discovered to have come from that country.

In the years 2006 to 2008 a large number of individuals from UK, France and Finland experienced an outbreak of rashes.

Some of these individuals developed mycosis fungoides or septic infections (impetigo) and they needed medical help.

Upon the investigation of healthcare professionals they soon discovered that these patients all purchased leather furniture that came from China.

Chinese manufacturers used dimethyl fumarate to prevent mold from developing in their leather items and this chemical was what triggered an outbreak of allergies in those three countries.

How to know if you’re allergic to dimethyl fumarate

In order to know if a patient is allergic to dimethyl fumarate a patch test would have to be conducted.

Unfortunately, even a small amount of dimethyl fumarate is enough to cause a severe reaction.

As of now, scientists are still trying to determine how much of this chemical should be used to trigger a reaction that won’t be severe.

According to experts around 0.003% to 0.005% of dimethyl fumarate is being used for patch testing, which is still safe.

How to treat leather allergy

Topical corticosteroids and emollients are often used to treat dimethyl fumarate allergy. As soon as the patient is diagnosed with leather allergy she will be advised by the doctor to avoid all items made of leather and containing DMF (dimethyl fumarate).

Patients with severe cases of dimethyl fumarate allergy would need systemic steroids to alleviate the symptoms.

Symptoms of dimethyl fumarate allergy

Patients with leather allergy often exhibit these symptoms:

  • Itchy skin
  • Burning skin
  • Dark or red rash
  • Rough, dry skin
  • Peeling skin

Oftentimes, allergy to dimethyl fumarate is mistaken for eczema since they both exhibit similar symptoms.

Patients suffering from this condition should consult a physician right away in order to determine if they are indeed experiencing an allergic reaction to dimethyl fumarate.

Allergists say that though symptoms of leather allergy aren’t severe oftentimes if they’re not treated immediately the patient may experience severe pain.

When a patient is diagnosed with dimethyl fumarate allergy he will be advised by doctors to avoid direct contact with any leather item.

That would mean getting rid of leather sofas or any other furniture with leather in it.

More specifically patients should avoid direct contact with DMF, which has several name variations:

  • Dimethyl ester
  • Fumaric acid
  • Methyl fumarate
  • Allomaleic acid dimethyl ester
  • Dimethyl (E)-butenedioate

If you’re suffering from leather allergy always check the shoes or the furniture you’re purchasing and see if it has any of the chemical ingredients listed above.

Also, the keywords to finding out if the item you have is contaminated with DMF check to see if the sachet (DMF are often packaged in sachets) that came with it has a tag that says “mold inhibitor” or “anti-mold”.

Chances are these sachets contain DMF and they will trigger an allergic reaction once you touch them.

If you purchased a pair of shoes that has DMF in it you can take them out of their boxes or packaging and air them out for a few months.

Airing them out might eradicate the DMF from the item. Although, some shoes might take a few years to be fully free from DMF.

Dimethyl fumarate allergy or “leather allergy” is a serious skin allergy that can worsen over time if not treated immediately.

Please consult your doctor if you think you’re suffering from this condition in order to get the proper treatment right away.

Image provided by: https://www.flickr.com/photos/consumerist/859393541/in/photostream/

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