Researchers Discover How Certain Chemical Compounds In Creams And Cosmetics Trigger Allergic Skin Reactions
How different chemical compounds in creams, cosmetics, and other consumer products trigger allergic reactions
in the skin
has remained somewhat mysterious for a long time. Finally a new study suggests the way some chemicals displace natural fats in skin
cells may explain how many common ingredients trigger allergic contact dermatitis
, and encouragingly, suggests a new way to treat the condition.
The research study was led by researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, the Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Monash University and is published in Science Immunology
Typically, Poison ivy is a commonly known trigger for allergic contact dermatitis
, but the reaction can also be caused by many ingredients of consumer products and has become highly prevalent in industrialized nations.
The allergic reaction
begins if the immune system's T cells recognize a chemical as foreign. Research suggests that generally small chemicals must bind to a larger protein in order to become visible to T cells, and few chemicals do this by undergoing a chemical reaction inside our body.
Study co-leader Dr Annemieke de Jong, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons told Thailand Medical
News, "Many small compounds that trigger allergic contact dermatitis
lack the chemical groups needed for this reaction to occur. These small chemicals should be invisible to T cells, but they're not."
Dr De Jong and her colleagues suspected that CD1a
, an abundant molecule on the skin's Langerhans cells (immune cells in the skin's outer layer) might be responsible for making these chemicals visible to T cells.
The study, conducted with human cells in tissue culture, found that several common chemicals known to trigger allergic contact dermatitis
were able to bind to CD1a
molecules on the surface of Langerhans cells and activate T cells.
Some of these chemicals included Balsam of Peru and farnesol, which are found in many personal care products, such as skin creams, toothpaste, and fragrances. Overall, the researchers identified more than a dozen small chemicals
that activated T cells through CD1a
Dr de Jong added, "Our work shows how these chemicals can activate T cells, but since we did not do a patient study, we have to be cautious about claiming that this is definitively how it works in allergic
patients. The study does pave the way for follow up studies to confirm the mechanism in allergic
patients and design inhibitors of the response."
New Approaches For Therapeutic Treatment
molecules bind the skin's own naturally occurrin
g fats in its tunnel-like interior. These fats protrude from the tunnel, creating a physical barrier that prevents CD1a
from interacting with T cells.
From past structural work done at Monash University, farnesol, one of the allergens identified in this study, was shown to hide inside the tunnel of CD1a
, displacing the resident natural fats. "This displacement makes the CD1a
surface visible to the T cells resulting in an immune reaction" de Jong says.
This new discovery raises the possibility that allergic contact dermatitis
could be stopped by applying competing fats to the skin to displace ones triggering the immune reaction. "From previous studies, we know the identity of several fats that can bind to CD1a
but won't activate T cells," she says.
At the moment, the only way to stop allergic contact dermatitis
is to identify and avoid contact with the offending chemical. Topical ointments can help soothe the rashes, which usually clear up in less than a month. But in severe cases, physicians may prescribe oral corticosteroids, which are broadly anti-inflammatory and immune suppressive, but can leave patients vulnerable to infections and other side effects.
Reference: S. Nicolai el al., "Human T cell response to CD1a and contact dermatitis allergens in botanical extracts and commercial skin care products," Science Immunology (2019). immunology.sciencemag.org/look … 6/sciimmunol.aax5430