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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    { 13 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Katrina May 22, 2019 at 00:44

    Phenol is also found in some essential oils. I recently started using a new essential oil, Clary Sage and broke out in a chemical burn all over my face. It has been a complete nightmare and nothing will soothe the intense itching/burning sensation I have. Someone below me mentioned that a poison control center told them this product is only toxic when ingested, this is not true. I did not ingest the oil, only applied topically (as instructed), and diffused.


    2 Alice June 13, 2016 at 13:54


    Thank you for the article about phenol exposure. I was working with a mixture of phenol and chloroform to extract DNA for almost 10 years. I inhaled a lot because I was not using a chemical hood! I was admitted twice in ICU, almost in a coma: no one could figure out what the problem except that my blood sugar went up and could not be brought down by insulin. I am now allergic to almost all veggies and fruits. Do you know the best way to detox from this chemical?


    3 linda kennedy March 18, 2016 at 09:44

    I am i.pacted badly and have lost 30 lbs in two months. I became allergic to sll constipation remedies, acid reflux etc. Tried natural remedies and started having allergic and intolerance to many thins. I also am affected by fumes.
    Docs want me to cleanse bowells but would have to use an iodione dye. 2% in lots of water they say. I’m very hypersensitive and want them to flush my system without it. I don’t know what to do. With contrast MRI dye i had intense itching and bad hives all over my back. Anyone?


    4 dave April 28, 2017 at 17:44

    Sounds like you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome


    5 Sue May 4, 2017 at 17:15

    Please explain more, does phenol cause Mast Cell Activity?


    6 linda k January 4, 2016 at 21:20

    I suddenly started becoming allergic to the dye contrast for MRIs then the cortisone shot immediately gave me an allergy to polyester and then I started having allergic reactions to all my anti acids from Prylosac to tums. everything I tried nothing worked everything I was allergic to all my products for constipation including polyethylene etc. I became allergic to all of these happens suddenly and out of the blue I was very concerned and I wasn’t sure what to do so I went to home remedies and found some interesting things to help with constipation acid reflux excetera but those only made it worse which then I soon found out I was having problems with these foods and home remedies as well causing even more problems I went to see an allergist and she said that you could not be tested for pholyethylene or phenols or anything like that she said they couldn’t test chemicals but I read here a lot of you have been tested so do I see another allergist? this allergist wants me to see a vocal cord specialist I don’t think that really applies in my case look forward from hearing any back from any of you


    7 Allergy Guy January 16, 2016 at 21:30

    Different allergists follow different theories and one allergist may think that another’s approach doesn’t make sense. What does make sense is to try a few different approaches because I don’t think allergies are well understood. There certainly are tests for chemicals. In my opinion, none of the tests used by any allergist is really accurate, but it can be helpful in guiding you towards specific treatments and avoiding specific foods/chemicals etc to find out if that helps. You might search for a doctor who practices environmental medicine in your area. Let me know how it goes.


    8 Anna September 14, 2016 at 21:59

    I recently started using carmex cherry lip balm and my lips and around them became swollen and red. I read on their site some people had same experience. They were allergic to phenol. I am wondering if this is in my case. After this experience i am definitely going ORGANIC.this is very scarey companies putting chemicals in our products that are unsafe for us. Just saw some good documentaries on well. Choose well.


    9 Hawa Jacob November 4, 2014 at 01:50

    Good morning

    What is the diagnosis and prognosis for phenol sensitivity?

    Thank you
    Hawa Jacob


    10 Barbara Johnson July 26, 2013 at 02:01

    I was in my house when I smelled this horrible chemical and immediately became nauseated, vomiting, shortness of breath and my blood pressure went up to 180. I did not know this was being done as I live in a rental house. I went outside, and the owner was there and I asked what had been sprayed. He said a pesticide. I wish he had let me know. However, paramedics called the poison control board and the representative said that phenol was not dangerous, unless swallowed. I find that hard to believe with my immediate reaction. Please spread some light on this.


    11 yorkiemom June 28, 2013 at 15:27

    I could not find an environmental specialist but was able to find an allergy specialist that was well versed in all allergies and sensitivities. fI feel for you. MCS is not easy to live with in the world we live in today. I am living back in a very rural area with clean air, no pollution, and life is so much better. I feel so much better. It may take awhile for the toxins to clear. In the mean time keep a journal of what you eat, the cleaners you use, what symptoms you have, you may be able to discern the things that are causing your symptoms to be worse or better. Good luck.


    12 LMR June 4, 2013 at 00:23

    I am so glad I ran across the website.
    I had polypropylene mesh sling inserted in 2008. Got very tired, cold, low body temp over time it got worse. Finally throat was squeeking and swelling as the week went on it was worse could not get air. I has been happening 24/7 since 10/10. I have flushing, skin writing, rashes, severe asthma attacks, with rapid irregular heartrate, abdominal swelling, regurgitation of food, slow digestion, very low free t4 and tsh, exhausted, terrible pain and inflammation where the mesh was as well as nerve damage. I finally listened to my heart and not drs and had mesh removed 2012. I still have terrible reactions I don’t know what to. . . I do know I need someone to point me in the right direction to get help. I need to get well for my twins. Any ideas would be appreciated.
    Before mesh mild MCS no asthma.


    13 Allergy Guy June 7, 2013 at 13:31

    Hi LMR,
    Sorry to hear you’ve had so many health problems. I suspect you may have other allergies as well, and the additional load from your chemical sensitivities as put you over the edge.
    I highly recommend that you find a doctor who practices in environmental medicine. They can help you look it the whole picture: allergies, chemical sensitivities, and other contributing health conditions.
    Also, search this site for common allergies, and learn how to avoid them. For example, wheat and milk are two common foods that people have problems with. Dust and mold are two other common allergens that can really affect your health. If you can’t find a doctor right away. You may want to start by avoiding these allergens.
    Hope that helps


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