Triethanolamine contact allergen

This post is about Triethanolamine contact allergen, or TEOA, is an organic compound with the chemical formula N(CH2CH2OH)3. It is a colorless, viscous liquid. It is both a tertiary amine and a triol.  Additionally, a triol is a molecule with three alcohol groups. Triethanolamine primary used in making surfactants, therefore used as an emulsifier. Found as a common ingredient in formulations used for both industrial and many consumer products. Basically, triethanolamine neutralizes fatty acids, adjusts and buffers the pH, and solubilizes oils and other ingredients that are not completely soluble in water.

Beware Triethanolamine contact allergen use in skin products

Some common products with triethanolamine in them are sunscreen lotions, liquid laundry detergents, dish washing liquids, general cleaners, hand sanitizers, polishes, metalworking fluids, paints, shaving cream and printing inks.  So there are a lot of products that use Triethanolamine and can cause contact allergies.  Here are a few of them.

Hand sanitizer with Triethanolamine found in a drug store

Chemical Names

Triethanolamine preferred IUPAC name 2,2′,2′′-Nitrilotri(ethan-1-ol).

Other names:

  • 2,2′,2′′-Nitrilotriethanol
  • Tris(2-hydroxyethyl)amine
  • Triethylolamine
  • 2,2′,2′′-Trihydroxytriethylamine
  • Trolamine
  • TEA
  • TELA
  • TEOA

Patient testing in determining contact dermatitis as an allergen

A total of 1,357 patients having allergic eczema contact dermatitis were patch-tested with triethanolamine.  41 of the 1,357 patients had positive tests to Triethanolamine.   Consequently, twenty-nine of them suffered from venous insufficiency or sports injuries.  They had used antiphlogistic local medicaments for some time. Triethanolamine probably sensitized them by using these topical drugs on their skin.  In some patients, Triethanolamine allergy was inadvertently discovered from a fluorescent marking pen during the patch testing!


Triethanolamine allergy inadvertently discovered from a fluorescent marking pen

Triethanolamine WIKI

Contact allergy caused by triethanolamine

Skin Allergens data base