Phenol | Phenol Allergy | Allergy


by Allergy Guy

Phenol-Allergy-3DPhenol is a toxic organic chemical found in many foods and chemicals in our environment.  Some people have an allergic reaction to phenol.

Because phenol is found in so many chemicals, products and foods, you are likely to have quite a high exposure to it at times.  This depends on your lifestyle, job and another of other factors.

Phenol is also known as carbolic acid and hydrobenzene.  It is most commonly produced from coal by distilling coal tar or the partial oxidation of benzene.

It is used as a preservative in some allergy serums.   If you have certain types of allergy tests, your reaction to phenol must be checked as part of the test.  If you react to phenol, this must be taken into account when doing the rest of the tests.

It is found in a diverse range of products including artificial colours, artificial flavors, BHT/BHT and natural salicylates.

Phenol Uses

Phenol is a very useful chemical and has many uses.

Condensation with acetone gives bisphenol-A, a key building block for polycarbonates.

Condensation with formaldehyde gives phenolic resins, including the well-known Bakelite.

It is used in the manufacture of the following:

  • Epoxy
  • Aspirin and other drugs
  • Picric acid explosives
  • Herbicides and pesticides (constituent)
  • Phenolic resin including Bakelite formed by reacting phenol with formaldehyde.
  • Nylon
  • Synthetic detergents
  • Polyurethane
  • Perfume
  • Gasoline additives
  • Dyes
  • Cosmetics
  • Sunscreen
  • Hair dyes
  • Skin lightening preparationsPhotography solutions
  • Preservatives in medications including allergy shots

Note that while some of the above products contain phenol that may leak from the product, others may have the chemical locked in and therefore inert (meaning it won’t affect you) and still others may use phenol in production but leave none of the chemical in the final product.

Phenol Medical Applications

  • Exfoliant during cosmetic surgery
  • Phenolization (used to treat an ingrown nail – applied to the nail bed to prevent regrowth of nails)
  • Treat chronic neuropathic pain by injecting near a problematic sensory nerve
  • Active ingredient in some oral analgesics such as Chloraseptic and Carmex
  • Anticeptic

    Phenol Natural Sources

    Phenols can occur naturally.  Here are some examples.

    Phenol is a toxic agent in poison ivy and poison oak.

    It is found in thyme oil.  Thyme oil is used to produce menthol.

    Spring water may contain phenol for two reasons.  If the water comes in contact with naturally occurring coal, phenol may leach out of the coal and into the water.  Humus (rotting leaves) is another source of phenol that may leach into spring water.

    Other natural sources of phenol include:

    • Tea
    • Vanillin (found in vanilla as well as synthetic vanilla)
    • Smoke (including smoked meats)
    • Salicylate-containing foods
    • Whisky (at least some whisky, e.g. Islay scotch whisky)
    • Wine

    Phenol Toxicity

    Although tolerated in small does, large does are quite toxic.

    From Wikipedia:

    Phenol and its vapor are corrosive to the eyes, the skin, and the respiratory tract.  Repeated or prolonged skin contact with phenol may cause dermatitis, or even second and third-degree burns due to phenol’s caustic and defatting properties.  Inhalation of phenol vapor may cause lung edema.  The substance may cause harmful effects on the central nervous system and heart, resulting in dysrhythmia, seizures, and coma.  The kidneys may be affected as well. Exposure may result in death and the effects may be delayed. Long-term or repeated exposure of the substance may have harmful effects on the liver and kidneys.”  There is no evidence to believe that phenol causes cancer in humans.  Besides its hydrophobic effects, another mechanism for the toxicity of phenol may be the formation of phenoxyl radicals.

    Chemical burns from skin exposures can be decontaminated by washing with polyethylene glycol, isopropyl alcohol, or perhaps even copious amounts of water. Removal of contaminated clothing is required, as well as immediate hospital treatment for large splashes. This is particularly important if the phenol is mixed with chloroform (a commonly-used mixture in molecular biology for DNA & RNA purification from proteins).

    Phenol Chemical Structure

    Phenol-allergy-2 The chemical formula for phenol is C6H5OH.

    At its core is a benzene ring, with at least one hydroxyl group attached.

    Salicylate and Salicylic Acid

    Salicylate is a salt or ester of salicylic acid.  Salicylic acid is made from phenol.  It is used to make aspirin and also as a food preservative.

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    { 44 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Camerin February 8, 2013 at 15:20

    With a phenol allergy, what sunscreen and face care products can i use??


    2 SB February 18, 2013 at 20:26

    I read all labels. Zinc Oxide is good for sensitive places. Try a health food store or google chemical free make up there are some good sites with good suggestions. i have tried some of the products suggested. The high end products are out of my reach. Some of the companies are willing to send small samples and ingredients for you to try. Good Luck!


    3 Sue November 6, 2012 at 12:05

    I’v being exposed to phenol for 15 year work in the lab and have developed air-born allergy contact dermatitis. I am very sensitive to it now I can not even work in the lab that phenol chloroform have been used without a reaction. Our occupational physician said phenol is not a allergy so what I have is irritate dermatitis, therefore I do not have an allergy. Could you please give me some help to find the references to support that phenol dose cause allergy?
    I am really desperate because I can not go back to work and have not income and benefit since they refuse to accommodate me.

    Thank you very much!


    4 SB December 5, 2012 at 01:21

    Sue I have had two different types of doctors in two different states. In one state where I was originally diagnosed the person who diagnosed me was a neurotoxicologist. There my follow up care was with a neurologist. The state I currently live in I have finally found that an allergist in an allergy asthma clinic does testing for chemical sensitivities or now I am told they are calling them allergies. He has started to care for the many symptoms I have except the neurological ones I am currently trying to find a neurologist that has worked with someone who has had toxic exposures. Most of the time it is a doctor who has experience with patients from our most recent wars where they have been exposed to toxic chemicals and are having many of the same symptoms I have. Let me know what state you are in and I may have a resource for you.


    5 Allergy Guy December 7, 2012 at 16:17

    It sounds like you are following both an allergy track and a toxic exposure track. Do you think it’s both? Do you think the toxic exposure caused the allergies? Or are you trying to cover all the bases?


    6 SB December 7, 2012 at 23:25

    I was originally diagnosed with a toxic exposure to chemicals and multiple chemical sensitivities. Since that time I have reacted to some of the chemicals with allergic symptoms according to my current allergist who is familiar with both and treating me with the allergy symptoms as such and we are ruling out what we can as my insurance will allow. Yes I would say the toxic exposure would have to be the cause of the allergies I now have since I never had any allergies to any of the chemicals before. Phenol and formaldehyde being two of the known chemicals along with a few others that I have reacted with allergic symptoms. The unfortunate thing is we don’t know until I react to something. Many times I have no idea until I have a reaction. Some cause respiratory reactions(congestion, sinus drainage, sneezing,coughing, wheezing, and respiratory distress), some cause hives and rashes with contact. The other symptoms include tachycardia, increase in blood pressure, neurological, and swelling. These have all been documented in clinical settings. Most of the time I had no knowledge of the exposure until the symptoms revealed themselves and nurses or doctors started looking for the causes of the severe symptoms. Most instances we found an injection that had phenol, or formaldehyde was the source of the symptom, or perfume & colognes, cleaners used in the clinical area. This happened just this week. The allergist witness the effects of a perfume/cologne someone had in the laboratory where I had blood drawn just before my appt. with him. The inhaler prescribed did not work at the dosage prescribed and a nebulizer treatment was used to stop the attack.


    7 Allergy Guy December 10, 2012 at 22:49

    Thanks for sharing your story. It sounds like you have a pretty good allergist, and that is a big help. Hope you’re able to get relief.

    8 Sue December 7, 2012 at 17:32

    Thank you very much for reply. My problem is the air borne allergy contact dermatitis. I do have signs of toxicity exposure as well but I also do think it caused my allergy contact dermatitis. Although some MSDS say it is a allergen cause skin sensitization but I can not find in any of the publication reference and the Dr.s seem do not think it is a allergen. I am in Ontario Canada. I can not find anybody who does the testing on these chemicals. If you have any place to recommend, if is in the States, I would be willing to go and be tested.


    9 Allergy Guy December 10, 2012 at 19:12

    If you’re in Ontario, you can try Dr. Jennifer Armstrong, in Ottawa.


    10 SB August 8, 2012 at 20:47

    Donna it will probably take more than one night away from the fumes. I have found after surgeries I am most vulnerable to these kind of reactions. It is too bad so many physicians are not willing to think outside of the box. It is possible that your reaction is from an ointment he gave you post surgically but the fumes may be increasing the effects of the reaction. It can’t hurt to get away from the fumes for a few days and see if it helps. It is very frustrating to have a doctor that is not open to patient’s concerns. Especially, when they may be right. good luck I’ll keep you in my prayers and thoughts.


    11 Donna Ansted August 7, 2012 at 10:40

    I had new wood floors installed last week that were finished with stain and polyurethane. My eyes are swollen shut and a red rash covers my entire upper lid. My eyes burn and water constantly. I had some eye surgery just before I had the floors done. I went back to my doctor who prescribed steroid drops for my eyes but I have continued to worsen. He does not think my condition is caused by the fumes. He thinks it is eye ointment. I plan to go to a hotel this evening to remove myself from th environment to see if I get better. I am sooo miserable and I look like a monster. Help.


    12 George Kilbane August 8, 2012 at 23:29

    The culprit in your case is the polyurethane, The curative is an isocyanate chemical that can cause severe allergic reactions upon subsequent exposures including death. I strongly suggest you contact an Industrial Chemical allergy specialist .. A local allergy specialist may be of help. Have your doctor access the OSHA .gov data base for complete medical info. I was exposed to this chemical in 1979 and carry emergency medical medications with me at all times. So far so good.


    13 SB July 12, 2012 at 04:13

    Allergy guy do you know if there is any research that indicates allergies have any effect on the neuro system and or the brain areas that control emotions?


    14 Allergy Guy July 15, 2012 at 12:35

    I can’t say I do specifically, but I think it is generally accepted that allergies can have an effect on mood and emotions, and there are articles on this website about that very subject.


    15 unknown May 5, 2012 at 06:34

    what happens when you inhale a spoon of phenol?


    16 SB July 1, 2012 at 17:21

    Have never done that since being diagnosed and having the toxic exposure previous to that! The symptoms I experience when I am exposed to insecticides which contain phenol or other things with phenol depending on the level of exposure and level of chemicals I am sensitive and allergic to range from respiratory distress which involves coughing, wheezing, sometimes leads to respiratory shut down, tachycardia, (which leads to chest pain), without treatment, the neurological effects vary also. Tremors, memory loss, aphagia, dysphagia, lack of cordination, loss of time, loss of fine motor function, decrease in cognitive functioning. There are nice effects to deal with within 24 to 48 hours where leaving home is not an option. So inhaling a spoon of phenol is not on my agenda. It might actually be life threatening for me. Given the option maybe you would think twice. What a ridiculous question?


    17 SB January 31, 2012 at 18:46

    I have been dealing with phenol formaldehyde and hydrocarbon sensitivities since a toxic exposure. Depending on the level of each in areas I am in will depend on my reactions. I am sorry that the glycerine allergy prevents some of you from the glycerine soaps. There are some old recipes for cleaning that you can use. Egg whites are great for your face. Vinegar solutions work well for cleaning. I also use baking soda solutions and oatmeal fine ground. There are several holistic sites on the internet to help with cleaning and cleansing for the body. I do not use any thing with any fragrance. Depending on my tolerance levels will depend on what is used in my house. I keep a hepa filteration system running in the room I spend most of my time during times I am having more problems. I was at my best in a rural environment without pollution and very good control of what I ate and drank and what my home was like. I did have some recovery. Injections are rough because not everyone will listen when you ask about phenol or formaldehyde used as preservatives or in the production of the injectable medication. I had a flu shot with Thimerisol which caused some issues didn’t even think about being sensitive to it. I never thought about the chemical make up. Allergy Guy it is hard because so many physcians just look at you like you are crazy if you mention chemical sensitivities I think I will use the word allergy form now on. I plan on visiting your site more often you give good information. Worked in allergy immunolgy clinic for awhile and at an ENT office for a few years. Along with other clinics nice to see good information being given and that there is a change in attitudes since my “accident”.


    18 Kelli December 30, 2011 at 22:31

    Allergy Guy,
    My husband is allergic to Formaldehyde and Thimerisol. Is there a connection between these two chemicals and Phenol? The only thing I’ve found so far is that Phenol is used to make Formaldehyde. Thank you in advance for any information that you are able to provide.


    19 Allergy Guy January 2, 2012 at 22:04

    I’m not aware of any connection. Your husband should be tested for phenol directly if he suspects it is a problem.

    Allergy tests are not 100% accurate and should be used as a guide rather than providing a definitive answer.


    20 beth October 21, 2011 at 12:18

    I have had allergy tests done to determine for chemical allergies. I came up positive for formaldihyde, ethanol, and phenol/glycerin. My eyes burn very badly and water. This also creates a very bad cough. None of my symptoms go away until I am out of that environment. I’ve searched all over the internet just to find soap, however, I was told that all soap has a natural glycerine. I even tried soap flakes. Tfhat didn’t work either. I’ve been to see a chiropractor who says just to eat a gluten free diet. I have been doing this for four weeks now. Soap is the biggest problem at home. All the little particles of the chemical float around in the air, so I’m pretty much having symptoms all day. I work in a heavily perfumed, scented office. Tried to get something done about it, however, everyone claims they’re not wearing it, and management casn’t smell it, so their is nothing that can be done. I have been out on medical leave from my job since July 25th of this year. The fragrances were getting so bad I couldn’t stand it. Do you have any suggestions on how I can eliminate or neutralize the smells? I mostly stay at home, because fragrances and odors are everywhere. If you have any suggestions, it would be very helpful.


    21 Allergy Guy October 21, 2011 at 13:35

    The only thing I can think of is an activated carbon filter, but this will only work if you have an enclosed office.

    The other thing to look in to, I don’t know if you will find this practical or palatable, is to work from home, either at the job you have now, another job, or even change careers if necessary.


    22 sue November 6, 2012 at 12:48

    Hi Beth,

    Where did you got you chemical allergy done? I have been try to get the same test done to prove that I have allergies to chemical that I I work with but can not find a place will do it for me. my work place just declared that I do not have allergy to these chemicals and refused to accommodate me in the mean time refuse ma to go back to work. I do not have any compensate because I can not prove that my problem is work-related. Please help!



    23 Rob October 12, 2011 at 07:22

    I’ve been an insulin dependent Type 1 diabetic for 19 years. Ever since I was diagnosed (and put on insulin) I have also suffered from persistent fatigue and ‘brain fog’. I have maintained pretty good blood sugar control (A1c of 6.5 or thereabouts), so it’s not likely just errant blood sugars causing this systemic fatigue.

    Since I tend to get strong side effects from some insulins, I wonder if this may be a or the source of my fatigue and tiredness. Each are a different concoction of insulin + additives and preservatives such as m-cresol and ubiquitously, phenol. In my quest to find improvement I’ve tried most insulins available, and some give me dreadful side effects – I feel terrible, difficulty breathing, etc. I’m on the least side effecty combo. I’ve reduced my dose as much as I can through reducing carbs and through exercise. Things are a little improved but I still get regular fatigue.

    Could this be the phenol in the insulin? Seeing I can’t go off insulin, and seeing as all insulins have phenol – what might be worth trying to alleviate this? I see there are some companies selling enzymes that are meant to help with phenol, might these help in this case?



    24 Riki July 21, 2011 at 21:36

    Question: Immediately after I drink wine, my chest tightens up. It hurts a little, and it’s very uncomfortable. It feels like I’ve got a big rubber band around it, and my face feels hot, but doesn’t change color. Has anyone else experienced this, or do you, Allergy Guy, know what I’m talking about? A couple of sips doesn’t do this to me, but if I have a half glass or more, it will have this effect, and it lasts for about 15 to 20 minutes; then I start to feel better. I’m wondering if this is something that can happen with phenol, or if I might be allergic to it? I really like to drink wine occasionally, but not if it’s going to harm me.


    25 JT January 28, 2012 at 16:52

    Most people dont even consider this for some reason, but alcohol allergies are more common than you think! Most just dont notice due to intoxicating effects setting in quicker than the response. I have a similar, much stronger alcohol allergy where I get a full-body flush, start overheating, & then sweat uncontrollably! Not so much with beer, just stronger liquors, & antihistamines do NOTHING to stop it. Basically, I dont drink much alcohol anymore unless Im in a cool environment or infront of a fan, LOL, but your response sounds much less intense. So I’d try allergy meds that work best for you & take them before you plan on drinking to see if its enough for you. If not, you have 2 options: give up drinking, or learn to expect & accept it. Hope this helps


    26 Darlean May 28, 2011 at 09:06

    Allergy guy… I have been fighting a reoccuring skin rash for several years now. It only appears on my face and neck and looks like dermitis?? It burns so bad, does not really itch, just hurts all the time. It makes me look like a monster. I have been to two dermatolotists and they have done patch tests and took a skin sample and found nothing but a slight reaction to nickel. My neighbor just told me that he took a sample of this red stuff he keeps finding on his car when it is parked outside to a chemist and found it to contain phenolic. We live down the street from a plant that makes cabinets – woodwork. Could this be coming from the plant and could this be causing my problem? Would it not have shown up in the patch tests?
    I would appreciate any information you have. So far the only way to stop the outbreak is to use steroids and I hate taking them.


    27 Allergy Guy May 30, 2011 at 16:19

    Hi Darlean,

    Your rash sounds very annoying!

    I wish I could provide some helpful advice your you but this is not an area where I can be useful to you.

    You might look at how likely it is that anything from the plant does reach your house. Do you smell anything from the plant? Do prevailing winds blow across the plant to you? Is your rash worse when your windows are open and the plant is up-wind? Does it get better if you are away from your house for an extended period?

    Thinking along the lines above may help you determine the source of the problem. Other things to look for include allergens in your home (dust, mold etc), food allergies, and exposure at work.

    Hope that helps.


    28 Suzanne Rodee March 10, 2011 at 09:32

    How can I get rid of my allergy to phenol?


    29 Janette Pedatella April 7, 2012 at 10:36 Find a NAET practitioner in your area. They can eliminate your allergy to phenols using acupuncture. Of course, they will test you first to make sure you are allergic to phenols and not a different substance.


    30 Scott January 30, 2011 at 04:49

    I recently started working in a plant that applies a plastic coating and phenolic resin is used. At first I had no side affects from it. Now I have been here 3 months and I have to take antihystamines a couple times a day or the itchiness on my skin around my wrists and neck goes crazy to the point I can’t sleep. I recently had 5 days off and the symptoms where still there. My biggest concern though is my lungs. I cannot even jog any more because I just can’t seem to breath. If I do any physical exercise at all, I lose my breath fast and caugh for an half hour. I have completely avoided the area that has the resin in it, but it creates a dust throughout the whole plant. I have also changed the requirements for handling the resin for all employees. They now are required to wear a half face respirator. What can I do to take those bad symptoms away? Is there a better medicine than Benedryl? Will an inhailer work for me?


    31 Allergy Guy January 30, 2011 at 14:40

    I know this may sound like a hard answer, but you’d be best to find another job that reduces your chemical exposure. Adding more chemicals (drugs) to an already chemically-agitated body is not a great long-term solution.


    32 Stephanie December 10, 2010 at 03:45

    My daughter experienced a seizure after getting a TB test. The test contains phenol. I’m wondering if she could be allergic to phenol. Reading up on it, it is very scary. But she uses carmex all the time. Does carmex contain the same phenol that the TB test contains?


    33 Allergy Guy December 10, 2010 at 12:14

    The use of carmex could have sensitized your daughter to phenol, and something about the TB test may have pushed her sensitivity over the edge. Perhaps she should stop using carmex and see if she notices anything, even improvements to symptoms she didn’t know she had because she thought they were “normal”.


    34 Allergy Guy December 10, 2010 at 12:16

    PS – There are many other products with similar benefits to carmex. Your daughter may want to switch to an alternate product that is phenol-free.


    35 Suzanne October 22, 2010 at 12:36

    #1. What type of test is preformed to determine phenol allergy?

    #2. How does one resolve phenol allergy?

    #3. Should “hapten” occur as a result of an allergic reaction to the preservative of phenol in the allergy shots, what is the best solution in resolving the phenol allergy?

    #4 Is there a difference between phenol allergy and phenol sensitivity? What are the general symptoms of each?


    36 Valerie October 2, 2010 at 23:01

    Have you ever heard of a reaction to phenyl that involved large red spots developing on your skin? They become sore also. I recently began taking lisinopril, which has phenyl in it…. and I got one of these…


    37 Allergy Guy October 4, 2010 at 12:01

    Different people may have different reactions to the same thing.

    If taking lisinopril seems to give you large red spots, then perhaps you should try cutting it out and see if they go away.


    38 Karen September 24, 2010 at 21:39

    My dermatologist just did a patch test & found a Triclosan allergy which is found in phenol. Can prolonged exposure to Phenol vapors cause a skin reaction? I have not been in contact with it on my skin but as a podiatrist I have been exposed to the vapors almost daily for over 18 years. I have discontinued the use of phenol for 3 months but still have the rash. Can there be any connection to my skin rash & the phenol? How long should it take to rid this from my system? The only other positive reaction was to Salicylaldehyde.


    39 Linda September 11, 2010 at 18:54

    Three of five members of our family can’t tolerate food dyes, and eugenol ( clove oil). Is there a way that we can be desensitized to this.


    40 michelle July 16, 2010 at 18:36

    ive been reading up on the effects of phenol / benzene and would like to know if benzene is a known carcinogenic then why is it used in so many products an accummulation of benzene exposure would surely lead to the medically diagnosed cancers associated with this product


    41 Allergy Guy July 17, 2010 at 11:13

    Good question Michelle!

    To some extent, it is because the business and profit motive come ahead of health and personal well-being in our current society. A lot of what goes on should be criminal.

    Also, benzene is frequently used to make other, more complicated chemicals. Some of these chemicals, such as pesticides are also very harmful. I’m not sure that this makes all chemicals that include one or more benzene rings automatically carcinogenic. If I can find an answer to that one, I’ll post about it.


    42 michelle March 11, 2011 at 21:11

    i could be wrong but i beleive that you just answered your own queston in regards to the cause of cancer


    43 Shaun August 8, 2011 at 13:25

    No, benzene is not inherently carcinogenic. There are numerous biocompounds such as catecholamines (neurotransmitters like dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine fall into this class of compounds) and several amino acids (tyrosine, phenylalanine, tryptophan) that contain benzene rings and phenols. Thyroid hormones have benzene rings substituted with 3 or 4 iodine atoms.
    Benzene is an essential chemical structure for human endocrine function and cell structure, so please don’t assume all benzene-containing structures are bad! I suggest doing the research on specific phenolic compounds instead of making blanket statements.
    Your allergist should have a basic understanding of basic biochemistry in order to do his/her job properly, because similarities in chemical structure are what can cause allergic cross-reactions to other foods and compounds that lead to inflammation in your body and further imbalance in your immune system.


    44 Allergy Guy August 9, 2011 at 04:22

    Hi Shaun,

    Benzene itself is a carcinogen.

    That does not mean to say that all molecules that consist of modified or augmented benzine structures are carcinogenic.


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