Diver Allergic to Neoprene?

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(Q) Dear DocV,

I got OW certified only a few months ago. When I did, the water was warm enough to wear a swimsuit and a rash guard.

This past weekend I took a buoyancy class and spent a couple hours of each day in a pool wearing a wetsuit. The wetsuit is new and is mine. It was the first time I used it.

After each day of diving I immediately showered at the pool. However, on Sunday evening and more intensely on Monday I noticed an itchy sensation across my arms, legs and chest. Pretty much anywhere the suit was in contact.

It is now 5 days post diving and the generalized itching sensation is gone. When the “rash” occurred I had some raised bumps but no other symptoms.

Over the years and with many injuries (I like challenging sports), I have found that I have sensitivity to medical tapes and other things like that. I develop a rash localized to the area that was taped.

So, the questions are… Is it possible to have an allergic reaction to the neoprene? And if yes, what actions can I take to prevent the reaction?

Thanks for your help! I really do not want to give up diving because of something like this…

(A) Hi TF,

Allergic reactions to neoprene proper are relatively unusual; hypersensitivity to curing/accelerator agents used in neoprene processing and adhesives used in suit assembly is more common.

You’ll want to make sure that your reaction is not simply to some other agent, like chlorine. I find this unlikely, but provide it just as an example of irritating substances to which you might have come into contact. However, your report of a history hypersensitivity to medical/athletic tapes, and the described distribution of this rash, really does rather suggest that the problem is related to contact with natural or synthetic rubber-like compounds.

As your wetsuit is new, you may wish to hand wash it with baby shampoo or a delicate laundry detergent and then allow it to air well until the next wearing. Also be sure to rinse yourself well after each dive and shower with a gentle soap after the last dive of the day.

If the rash occurs again, you can try wearing a rash guard, although there is no guarantee this will work.

If you continue to have this problem, testing for neoprene allergy is probably next. This requires a specific patch test, so be sure to tell the allergist/dermatologist about your contact with neoprene and concerns when making the appointment. Since an allergy patch test for neoprene proper and its chemical accelerators typically is not included in the routine testing procedure, the doctor may have to arrange for a more thorough battery and this may require a small piece of your suit.

If it turns out you are allergic, you can look into a wetsuit made without neoprene such as a Thermocline Neoprene Free wetsuit by Fourth Element.

As for treatment, antihistamines, both oral and topical, often are useful in easing the discomfort of a number of contact skin rashes, but you really do need to find an alternative if this rash is going appear every time you put on neoprene. This is not to mention that such hypersensitivity reactions can become more severe with repeated exposures to the offending agent.

Best of luck.

DocVikingo

This is educational only and does not constitute or imply a doctor-patient relationship. It is not medical advice to you or any other individual and should not be construed as such.

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26 comments for “Diver Allergic to Neoprene?

  1. Peter Speek
    November 19, 2010 at 3:00 am

    I too have had allergic reactions to wetsuits but have linked it to the glue in the seams (and rarely but also to the toung of shoes) as described by TF but have been able to avoid it by changing wetsuits and using a skin as Doc V suggested.
    Peter

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  2. Natalie
    December 14, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    I’ve been through this issue myself, and it’s likely an allergy to the Thiourea group of chemicals. Have a patch test done by a dermatologist specialist. Your being ‘allergic’ to the glue used in medical tape is a tip-off.

    Have you also noticed the same sort of sensitivity to elastic items of clothing, such as underwear bands and sports equipment? It’s not an allergy, but really it’s dermatitis. Your skin is sensitive to those chemicals. I reacted badly to certain brands of wetsuits. The ones that don’t give me a reaction are from Pinnacle; possibly they use a type of neoprene that doesn’t contain any Thioureas. I emailed many wetsuit companies, but they wouldn’t tell me what was in their neoprene, so I was left with trial and error.

    Also, if you wear your suit in a chlorine pool, the reaction will be much worse. This is because the chlorine leaches out the chemicals in the neoprene. The dermatology specialist informed me of this. I once wore a wetsuit in the pool, and the severe itching and rash from my neck to my ankles and wrists didn’t go away for a week!

    Sorry Doc, but washing the suit in any kind of shampoo won’t work, nor will using a skin, if the OP is truly sensitive to Thioureas or any other chemicals used in the manufacture of the neoprene.

    Best of luck to the OP!

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  3. DocVikingo
    December 16, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Hi Natalie,

    RE “It’s not an allergy, but really it’s dermatitis.”

    [NOTE: Thiourea is not capitalized except when used at the beginning of a sentence. It is a chemical compound not named after anyone.]

    To the best of my knowledge, contact dermatitis to chemicals of the thiourea class is in fact is a type IV allergy.

    Please read the following and let me know if you wish to pursue the discussion:

    “Occupational Allergic Contact Dermatitis Due to Thioureas: Discussion

    05/13/2010; Dermatitis. 2010;21(1):E5-E6. © 2010 American Contact Dermatitis Society

    Thioureas are an uncommon cause of rubber contact dermatitis, thiurams being the leading cause.[2,3] Thioureas cause a type IV allergic contact dermatitis, which can be confirmed by patch testing. Because standard patch test series may not include thioureas, many cases may go undetected, resulting in a low number of reported cases.[4] A study by the North American Contact Dermatitis Group found that 1% of patients tested with MDTUs had positive reactions; 17% of these were occupationally relevant, and gloves were the most common occupational source.[2] DermaPrene gloves (Ansell Healthcare, Red Bank, NJ), used as an alternative by individuals sensitive to latex and thiuram-containing gloves, also contain thioureas.[1] Other sources of exposure include phlebotomy tourniquets, rubber tubing in intravenous lines, adhesives, cosmetic applicators, fixatives in photocopier and photographic paper, leather shoes, orthopedic braces, rubber masks, wet suits, computer wrist rests, and tires.[4,5] Thiourea compounds should be patch-tested separately from one another because they do not cross-react with one another.[1]

    MDTU is a premade mix that may fail to detect 25% of cases of allergic contact dermatitis due to thioureas; this failure may result from insufficient quantities of the components in the mix.[1] Standard patch tests may fail to detect thiourea-induced allergic contact dermatitis, so additional patch testing with the R-1000 series is recommended. Clinicians should consider thiourea sensitization in rubber allergy, especially among patients who work in the health care industry.

    References:

    1. Sakata S, Cahill J, Nixon R. Allergic contact dermatitis to thiourea in a neoprene knee brace Australas J Dermatol 2006;47:67–9.

    2. Warshaw EM, Cook JW, Belsito DV, et al. Positive patch-test reactions to mixed dialkyl thioureas: cross-sectional data from the North American Contact Dermatitis Group, 1994 to 2004 Dermatitis 2008;19:190–201.

    3. Geier J, Lessmann H, Uter W, et al. Occupational rubber glove allergy: results of the information network of departments of dermatology (IVDK), 1995-2001 Contact Dermatitis 2003;48:39–44.

    4. Comfere NI, Davis MD, Fett DD. Patch-test reactions to thioureas are frequently relevant Dermatitis 2005;16:121–3.

    5 Anderson BE. Mixed dialkyl thioureas Dermatitis 2009;20:3–5”

    Regards,

    DocVikingo

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  4. Poppy
    December 27, 2010 at 3:03 am

    Thankfully, I am not allergic to the whole neoprene suit, but only the ‘Glideskin’ or ‘Sharkskin’ (whichever trademarked name a manufacturer has given it) wrist, ankle and neck seals.
    Same tiny red, itchy bumps. Awful if you’re doing southern diving!
    I have been through 4 manufacturers of wetsuits, washed them in everything and nothing.
    My reaction began in salt, open water, but appears in pools, salt pools, and freshwater.
    I considered cutting off the seals to relieve myself, bit that defeats the purpose of insulation.
    I would love to solve this somehow- skins don’t work as they defeat the seal- so I went dry.
    Yes, in the Caribbean. It’s quite a conversation-starter, but then so are raw, red ankles, wrist & neck!
    Is there any way to ‘accelerate’ this ‘leaching’ ?
    Thanks
    Poppy

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  5. Rob Baird
    January 28, 2011 at 1:25 am

    Try The Fourth Element non-neoprene wetsuits–it’s 2.5 mil,

    It’s a UK company but just Google Fourth Element Dive Equipment

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  6. May 30, 2011 at 11:56 am

    I never knew that wet suits can be allergic also. I am not allergic to any particular material, but this whole event is making me think twice.

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  7. June 4, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    Hi there, just wandered by doing some research for a neoprene life jackets blog post. Lots of information out there. Looking for something else, but interesting page. Have a good day.

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  8. vince
    August 20, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    YES, you likely have a allergic reaction to neoprene. I’ve been scuba diving for over 30 years and recently purchased the newest material dive suit made of neoprene. Within 24 hours of using it, my back, chest and sides were very itchy with rash. I bought another new neoprene suit for swimming pool use, and it too caused the same reaction. My old suit is made of only nylon / polyester. I thought I was allergic to chlorine, so I used this neoprene suit in a salt water pool – same rash and itchy skin. When I don’t wear this neoprene suit and swim in chlorine or salt water based pool water, there is virtually no skin reaction. YES, you are experiencing an allergy to a neoprene suit – NO MATTER WHAT SUBSTANCE IS USED TO GO INTO IT. Stay clear of neoprene! Vince

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  9. Kevin T
    December 15, 2011 at 3:59 am

    I just got certified for Open Water Scuba and its the NEOPRENE SUITES that causes the rash and breakouts!! Doesn’t matter if its the chemicals holding the neoprene together or whatever, you can not wear a neoprene wetsuit if you have this allergy, as I do. The only company I have found that offers a WetSuit that is NON-Neoprene is the Thermocline from Fourth Element. I still don’t know if it can be worn as a protective barrier under a wet suit or if I will have to get a Dry-Suit for cooler water diving. Keep searching and post if you learn anything new!!!

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  10. staxski
    May 6, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    Hi guys,

    I’ve just returned from a seven day liveaboard in which I had a severe rash, itching, and soreness along the lines of those described by the OP above.

    I had bought a new neoprene wetsuit just prior to the trip and the week was ruined for me as I had no option but to keep wearing the same suit as we were out at sea.

    I found Doc Vikingo’s reply above re curing agents in a NEW suit to be hugely beneficial, as this mad rash and itchiness only seems to happen to me with a NEW neoprene suit. I’ve dived 300 times in nine or ten countries and have never experienced a rash with well-worn rental equipment or my own two piece titanium 7mil which I use in colder waters.

    Does anyone have advice about how to ‘treat’ or look after a neoprene suit so that such an allergic reaction doesn’t occur again? Or would I be better off just trying to find a non-neoprene suit.

    As a keen diver for over ten years, I find it very frustrating that an activity I love causes so much pain, itchiness, and irritation.

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  11. Shirley Dilleshaw
    October 21, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    I also am having the small, red, itchy bumps. I purchased a brand new neosport wetsuit for swimming in chlorinated swimming pool year round. Have worn it only twice, guess I’ve wasted $200. Any advise would be appreciated.

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  12. DocVikingo
    October 22, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Bummer, Shirley.

    The volatile portions of neoprene curing agents & construction adhesives often dissipate with time/use. Allow the suit hang in a well-ventilated area between uses & rinse it, and yourself, free of chlorinated water immediately after any pool work.

    Good luck.

    DocV

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  13. Ismael
    June 3, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Hi,

    I think I have an allergic reaction to neoprene too but only in my feet. I work every day as an SCUBA instructor, and since I bought open heels fins and neoprene booties everything started to go worse. It wasn’t from one day to another, but little by little. First, cracked heels and cuts during for 4 months (dry skin), then something similar to eczema, little blisters that never burst and only sometimes itchy coming very slowly from the side of the feet to the top. I have been to the dermatologist, but he only said that it is eczema and gave me corticoids in cream, or another one gave me steroids in pills. Sometimes blisters come with pus, which get infected and I have to stop diving for 10 days and get antibiotics. During one year diving never happened anything, and I was using cotton socks and then neoprene socks, just right at the beginning. Now I think I am going to try to go back to the cotton socks or neoprene socks to test if that’s the problem. I really feel a bit lost here, just checking websites, and going to doctors that don’t make any allergic test.
    Anyways, if anybody knows anything about this, I would be really happy to hear about it.

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  14. Kd
    August 21, 2014 at 1:31 am

    This is sort of related… My son has developed a skin rash all over his body in the areas where the skin was In contact with the rash guard and swim suit. Do the kids rash guards contain neoprene? Has anyone else seen this in kids after salt waters or pools?

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  15. DocVikingo
    August 21, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Ki Kd,

    We need lots more info here:

    1. When did the rash 1st appear?
    2. Does the rask appear with each outing?
    3. What does the rash look like (e.g., coloration, pustules, hives)?
    4. Does it burn or itch?
    5. Does he wear the garment for long periods at a time? Wet?
    6. Does anything make the rash better?
    7. Does he have any other allergies?

    Cheers,

    DocV

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  16. KeithS
    August 30, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    Hello,

    I can relate to those that have had a reaction to neoprene because I’m suffering from one as I type this. I’m brand new to diving and I came into it knowing that I have an allergy to neoprene because of reactions to non-diving items such as knee pads, fishing gloves, weightlifting belts and even a mouse pad. I want to share my situation to help out those with the same problem.

    I own the non-neoprene wetsuit called Thermocline from Fourth Element that others have mentioned. It includes a full body suit as well as socks and hood. It is an excellent suit, very comfortable, easy to put on and wear. However, although the suit doesn’t cause a reaction, it can’t stop the chemicals from other neoprene items from reaching your skin. I found this out the hard way.

    I wear neoprene dive boots over the socks (they don’t make any other type) and neoprene diving gloves with medical exam gloves underneath. Also, although I couldn’t tell by the outer material, apparently the inside of the straps of my brand new BCD is also made from neoprene.

    So I just finished my OW certification and after several days of pool and open water diving, I am now sporting a nasty, itchy, uncomfortable rash on my neck, shoulders, chest and feet. The medical gloves protected my hands from the chemicals as they should. The chemicals from the neoprene in my boots and BCD straps went right through the suit and into my skin when I got in the water.

    It looks as if the only way to be a scuba diver with a neoprene allergy is to dive in a dry suit, unless you can somehow avoid all contact with neoprene or don’t mind dealing with a rash. I’m hoping that modern medicine may be able to help us out also.

    If you suffer like me, do what you can to protect yourself because trust me, this rash sucks.

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  17. Tom Phillips
    September 14, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    I bought a wetsuit for the first time about a week ago and, after wearing it about five minutes when I got home, woke up the next morning with my knees all scabby and itchy. It reminded me that I had a similar reaction to some cycling shin/knee pads I had. At that time I put it down to the fact that I was generally wearing them all day and that the environment was rather humid. I searched Google for reactions to neoprene wetsuits and came up with lots a answers saying it was a CONTACT reaction. So before using the suit yesterday (for canoing, not diving) I bought some full-leg swimming trunks to keep the suit off my knees. I was in an open canoe so even my legs got wet and I was wearing the suit for about 4 hours.
    When I got home my knees started itching and a couple of hours later started oozing clear liquid and I didn’t feel particularly well so I went to bed. It seems it might have been more than I rash for me as I finished up spending the night in hospital on a corticosteroid drip and the doctors describing it ‘burns’. My knees were the worst but my whole body looked like I’d spent the day in the sun.
    So, Keith, I’m with you: Anything you put under the suit that is porous won’t stop the problem as the chemicals just soak through.

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  18. December 15, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    I just ran across this thread about being allergic to neoprene. I have over 500 dives under my belt and had started a career in underwater photography. In ’99 I had a slight type 2 bends incident and noticed any dive after I recovered, I had the intensely itchy red bump rash anywhere I have worn a wetsuit or hood made with black rubber or neoprene. I am back living back in southern California and had to invest into a dry suit as i want to dive again in the cold water out here but can’t find anything to keep my head warm as all the hoods I’ve found are neoprene. 2mm non neoprene hoods won’t cut it for sub 60 degree water. I have tried using my drysuit latex hood with a beanie under it , but as I descend it compresses and I end up with a giant air bubble and end up removing it underwater and dive hoodless. Any help would be life changing as I am a fish out of water again.

    Thanks in advance,
    B

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  19. Dawn
    January 2, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    I do not dive but I do have an allergic reacton to neoprene glue that is used in shoes. My feet beak out on the top of my foot in tiny red bumps and itch like crazy. I have had the scratch test done and that is how I found out. Since then I have noticed that I do get itchy from the adhesives on medical tape and I would be too afraid to put on a wet suit because I am about 99% sure that I would go into an itching fit!????
    When I had the scratch test done I also was told thst I am allergic to nickel and leather. So leather belts even though on top of a pair of jeans creates an extremely itchy ring completely around my waist.
    I have found Puma – information from a dr – to be the only shoe manufacturer not to use neoprene glue in their shoes. If I call manufacturers directly they cannot tell me the type of glue that they use. If anyone has ideas about how to find out that information that would be great.
    Thanks!! Good luck to everyone here!!

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  20. M
    August 30, 2015 at 12:01 am

    I have had the same problems that you all have had. Allergy to diethyltiourea. I have tested several types of neoprene from different manufacturers but always ended up with rash on the test spot. But now i have tested the suit manufacturers Waterproof’s neoprene. And I put a piece 1x1cm in to a yar togheter with dishwashing soap and water. Every day i just shoke the yare a couple of times and after one week i washed the piece and let it dry. Then I put it on my back using a big piece of medical tape. After two days I have still not yet got any rash as I have got from the other manufacturers. Now i have bought a hood from Waterproof and plan to test that the same way. I have washed it for one week plus this time i have also put it into the washingmashine the last time.

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  21. M
    August 30, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    I made the Hood test this morning. Did put on the Hood dry for 30minutes and still 8h later no allergy. I will redo the test with some water in the Hood

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  22. welshmike
    September 6, 2015 at 9:53 am

    M

    I’m a newbie to this blog and have been struggling with persistent allergic contact dermatitis as a result of wearing modern wetsuits and even a drysuit with neoprene and latex seals.

    I was a Scuba diving instructor for 30 years but now just do windsurfing.

    I’d be very interested in the result of your most recent test M.

    FYI I started a forum thread that is now rather long here
    http://forums.boards.mpora.com/showthread.php/63684-Looking-for-a-wetsuit-that-doesn-t-give-me-allergic-dermatitis
    in 2012 but have not found way of providing a solution to my problem.

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  23. Marilyn
    November 28, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    Hi, I have read all the comments as I also have an allergy to neoprene and I agree it doesn’t solve the issue wearing anything underneath, I worn my 3mm fourth element non neoprene under my new 5mm neoprene and still got the allergy but I am also thinking it has something to do with age as my old suit isn’t a problem but new suits are.
    Therefore I am going to try n wash the ‘bad’ stuff out of the new suit and try it again.
    Otherwise what can you wear if you need 5-7mm? They only do non neoprene in a 3 mm, unless anyone knows differently?
    Marilyn

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  24. Ruth
    June 29, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    Hi, I also have read all your comments with great interest. I bought two neoprene suits, one for warmer and one for colder ocean water temps. One week ago I tested out one of my suits and since I’m new to suits I thought I was in heaven to be able to play in cold water as long as 40min.
    The next day I developed a severe itchy poison ivy kind of rash between my upper legs and it started to spread out like poison ivy. I’m usually not allergic to other neoprene products. It seems the neoprene getting in contact with ocean water caused the problem.
    One of the wet suits is a super stretchy one made for triathletes and when taking it out of the package it had a very strong chemical rubbery smell that doesn’t seem to go away. I will try washing the suits a few times with wet suit shampoo and let them air as much as possible outdoors and try swimming in them once more to see what will happen.

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  25. Peter
    July 27, 2016 at 4:41 pm

    I have psoriasis for most of my life, I have always experienced a minor itch after wearing a wetsuit. Recently though I purchased a new Hyperflex wetsuit with the nice comfortable lining and my reaction was over the top, it basically gave me psoriasis in places I have never had them before, chest, under arms, in between my legs…etc… they took that suit back thankfully, but I still needed a suit so I purchased a more basic limestone based suit from Needs Essential, this suit only has a nylon lining…. my reaction was worse yet… mean while I can put on my 4 year old suit and my 5 year old shorty and not have major outbreaks.
    I washed the Needs Essential suit out thoroughly, thinking it might be the off gassing or sizing… this did not make a difference, I wonder if it is the new type of neoprene that is causing the problem? How do I get tested to narrow this down, I just cannot bear to be a human guinea pig any longer, it takes weeks to get control of these spots and the itch is not tolerable!
    I do have allergies to just about everything air borne, and Ibuprofen, Reactine helps the itch a bit and cortisone cream eventually gets control of the red blotchy raised spots.
    I just want to enjoy my hobbies! All of which require a wetsuit….

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  26. Dave@Cornwall
    August 23, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    You would all have to confirm this with a patch test, but I think the problem here is the amount of Thiurams(rubber accelerators) added these days in order to make the rubber softer. Smooth skin neoprene has caused me more problems on the neck. I’ve asked a few people with scientific backgrounds if there was a way to remove all of the Thiurams from the rubber.
    One answered “not if the rubber has been vulcanised” another said that if I keep washing my wetsuit in soap with a high glycerine content it might make it less irritating by removing much of the surface irritants.

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