Not An Allergen.
Pencil lead is made up of graphite (a form of carbon) mixed with wax and clay. Graphite is not on published allergen lists.
In pencils specifically, you’re more at risk of a contact reaction from the paint used to color the outside of the pencil, the clay mixed in with the graphite (the more clay mixed in with the graphite, the harder the pencil lead), the eraser (rubber, thiuram), or the ferrule if it is made of metal as there is a good chance it would contain nickel.
And there’s no need to worry about lead — despite being called that, there is no lead in pencils. While there have been cases of lead poisoning from pencils in the past, this was due to chewing on the paint (lead was finally outlawed in paint in 1978), not the graphite.
Finally, while there have been a few cases reported of allergic contact dermatitis to equipment with graphite fiber, in these cases, patch testing revealed that the causes of the reactions were other present substances in the equipment, such as epoxies.
If you have a history of sensitive skin, don’t guess: random trial and error can cause more damage. Ask your dermatologist about a patch test.
On the prevalence of skin allergies, see Skin Allergies Are More Common Than Ever and One In Four Is Allergic to Common Skin Care And Cosmetic Ingredients.
To learn more about the VH-Rating System and hypoallergenicity, click here.
Regularly published reports on the most common allergens by the North American Contact Dermatitis Group and European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies (based on over 28,000 patch test results, combined), plus other studies. Remember, we are all individuals — just because an ingredient is not on the most common allergen lists does not mean you cannot be sensitive to it, or that it will not become an allergen. These references, being based on so many patch test results, are a good basis but it is always best to get a patch test yourself.
2. W Uter et al. The European Baseline Series in 10 European Countries, 2005/2006–Results of the European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies (ESSCA). Contact Dermatitis 61 (1), 31-38.7 2009
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