"I’m Allergic To My Partner … & Maybe My Kids!": Skin Issues From Close Contact
“Connubial or Consort Contact Dermatitis” is thing!
While some skin lesions can be associated with sexual activity (infection, friction, etc.) — which is why it’s so important not to self diagnose! — other types of close contact can cause skin problems.
“Connubial or consort allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the agent causing the dermatitis has not been used by the patient but by his partner or other cohabitants or proxy. Most cases are due to fragrances, cosmetics or topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents.”1
In other words, Connubial or Consort Contact Dermatitis (also called Contact dermatitis “by proxy”) occurs when you experience contact dermatitis due to something that you’re not using yourself but that is being used by someone you come into close contact with or live with. The most common culprits are the top contact allergens.
Connubial contact dermatitis can occur from contact with your partner if they use a soap or lotion that contains your allergens. It can also occur between parents and children when using products with lots of fragrance (which tends to be common in baby products) or other allergens.
It can even occur when applying a cream meant to provide relief from a skin irritation, as in a 2013 paper published in the journal Cutaneous and Ocular Toxicology (Exuberant connubial allergic contact dermatitis from diphenhydramine) which reported how a woman applying a topical medication for itching, pain and irritations on her husband’s back experienced contact dermatitis herself.
How else can connubial/consort contact dermatitis occur?
• In close contact sports: allergens from skincare products, clothing, laundry soap, even medications can be excreted in sweat. In fact, heat, humidity, and sweat can increase their reactivity. Wrestling or grappling with a partner who is wearing or using things with your allergens could cause a reaction in your skin, even if they are unaffected.
• Contact during sexual activity with lubricants or condoms that have or are made with materials that you are allergic to.
• Chronic skin issues on a certain side of the face or body could indicate a sensitivity to something your partner is using if that side is where you tend to lean on them when cuddling. This could also be from other issues, of course, such as working next to a window facing that side of your face or sleeping on that side (your pillowcase material or laundry soap could be a factor). Your dermatologist, especially if they are a contact dermatitis specialist, can help determine possible triggers.
Other important things to know:
1. Not all skin problems on the genitalia are from sexual activity. Some can be due to your body wash or laundry soap. Others like Molluscum contagiosum can come from fomites (towels and sheets).
2. You should never be embarrassed about seeking out medical care for a skin lesion bothering you on or in the genitalia. This is what dermatologists are for and they have seen it all.
4. If you have a current infection (bacterial, viral, etc.) that is not normally transmitted through sexual activity or other close contact, you could still theoretically pass it on to another person if they have become immunocompromised due to stress, certain medications, or fighting off another illness.
5. Some skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis can seem contagious but are not. You do not get eczema (atopic dermatitis) or psoriasis from contact.
6. Because people can be allergic to what others around them use, choosing products without the top contact allergens — in everything from your haircare, to your body wash, body lotion, skincare, makeup, and laundry soap — can be safer for you and the people closest to you.
It is therefore not a stretch to say: when you choose allergen-free products, you’re not just looking out for yourself; you’re also looking out for others!
1. Teixeira V et al. Exuberant connubial allergic contact dermatitis from diphenhydramine. Cutan Ocul Toxicol. 2014 Mar;33(1):82-4. doi: 10.3109/15569527.2013.812106. Epub 2013 Jul 12. PMID: 23848819.
2. Paravina M., Nedeva M., Bajic L. Contact Dermatitis – A review of the literature with the Connubial type in focusActa Medica Medianae 2019;58(4):152-157.
3. McFadden, J. (2014). Proxy Contact Dermatitis, or Contact Dermatitis “by Proxy” (Consort or Connubial Dermatitis). 10.1007/978-3-642-45395-3_10.
4. Ho KK et al. Contact dermatitis: a comparative and translational review of the literature. Vet Dermatol. 2015 Oct;26(5):314-27, e66-7. doi: 10.1111/vde.12229. Epub 2015 Jul 16. PMID: 26184842.
Laura is our “dew”-good CEO at VMV Hypoallergenics and eldest daughter of VMV’s founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist. She has two children, Madison and Gavin, and works at VMV with her sister CC and husband Juan Pablo (Madison and Gavin frequently volunteer their “usage testing” services). In addition to saving the world’s skin, Laura is passionate about health, inclusion, cultural theory, human rights, happiness, and spreading goodness (like a great cream!)