Chemicals in Toilet-Seat Cleaners Linked to Skin Problems

Skin irritations caused by chemicals found in toilet-seat cleaners appear to be making a comeback in pediatricians’ offices, according to a prominent Baltimore researcher.

“Toilet-seat dermatitis is one of those legendary conditions described in medical textbooks and seen in underdeveloped countries, but one that younger pediatricians have not come across in their daily practice,” says Bernard A. Cohen, MD, director of pediatric dermatology at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

“If our small analysis is any indication of what’s happening, we need to make sure the condition is on every pediatrician’s radar,” he says.

The causative culprits are harsh chemicals like phenol and formaldehyde, as well as exotic wooden toilet seats. Phenol has been associated with dermatitis and both second- and third-degree burns, while formaldehyde is a known health hazard and carcinogen.

Wooden seats—especially those covered with varnishes and paints—are a returning trend in bathroom décor, note Dr. Cohen and his colleagues in the February issue of Pediatrics.

Children can develop irritation after repeated use of a wooden seat or ongoing exposure to chemical residues. Dr. Cohen urges pediatricians to ask parents about home and school toilet seats and cleaners when treating a toddler or young child with irritated buttocks or upper thighs.

While dermatitis is relatively benign, many pediatricians may treat it incorrectly if they fail to pinpoint the source. This, in turn, can lead to persistent or worsening inflammation, with painful, itchy skin eruptions. Chronic skin irritation is also vulnerable to bacteria and may lead to more serious infections that require oral antibiotics.

“Some of the children in our study suffered for years before the correct diagnosis was made,” says lead investigator Ivan V. Litvinov, PhD, of McGill University in Montreal.

To prevent toilet-seat dermatitis, Dr. Cohen and his colleagues recommend:

  1. Use of paper toilet-seat covers in public restrooms, including hospital and school restrooms
  2. Replacing wooden toilet seats with plastic ones
  3. Cleaning toilet seats and bowls daily
  4. Avoiding harsh store-brand cleaners, which often contain skin irritants

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  • baby crib  January 27, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    I think those cleaners are a factor for the skin problems. Some toilet cleaners have harsh chemicals in it.

  • David Smith  January 30, 2010 at 7:10 am

    We are a cleaning company in the UK and we carry out cleans in domestic properties and fortunately as yet we have not seen a return of wooden toilet seats in any great numbers. Those we do find are normally in much older properties. As for our toilet seat cleaners none of them contain any of the chemicals mentioned above. They are mainly alcohol based in our case.

  • Amber  February 24, 2010 at 5:52 am

    Yes really I have seen few ladies complain of getting skin rashes and problems after using the toilet,usually around the area around the toilet seat.I use toilet papers on toilet seat almost all the time.

  • prince  February 28, 2010 at 6:53 am

    Children are most susceptible to these Toilet sit-dermatitis. It’s advisable to make children use the toilet at home,before going out, so they don’t have to use public toilets

  • Sally E  May 1, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    That’s a new one. I haven’t really hear of too many people suffering from this. I guess I’ll stay with toilet paper covers. Better safe then sorry…..

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