Last updated: November 10, 2018

What Does Sensitizer Mean?

Sensitizers are chemical substances that can cause sensitization in the lungs (respiratory sensitizers) or to the skin (skin sensitizers) after exposure.

Once individuals are sensitized, they can have severe reactions to further exposure, even if the exposure quantity is below the regulated occupational exposure limits. In the most extreme cases, individuals may develop asthma and/or dermatitis respectively. This condition of being sensitized to a chemical is also referred to as chemical hypersensitivity.

Safeopedia Explains Sensitizer

Substances are classified as respiratory (asthmagens) or skin (contact) sensitizers if they adhere to the following criteria:

  • There is evidence in humans that the substance can induce specific respiratory hypersensitivity/sensitization by skin contact in a substantial number of persons.
  • There are positive results from an appropriate animal test.

Examples of sensitizers include nickel, isocyanates, and formaldehyde.

As required by the United Nations' Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), many such sensitizers are indicated by the following risk phrases or hazard statements:

  • H334 May cause allergy or asthma symptoms or breathing difficulties if inhaled.
  • H317 May cause an allergic skin reaction.

Once a risk to a sensitizer has been identified and assessed, the appropriate hierarchy of controls must be implemented to ensure the risk is eliminated or mitigated.


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