AchooAllergy.com Blog
What Do Printers, Photocopies, and Receipts Have to Do with Allergies?
Posted by Shifrah on Friday, March 04, 2011
My family and friends know that I write for an allergy relief company, so I'm often asked for advice about which products to buy or about allergies in general. This week, my mother asked me why her eyes were itching. She doesn't typically have allergies, but she noticed that after doing professional organizing for a certain client of hers, she often comes home with smarting eyes.

At first I thought it was just a reaction to dust, but this time she had an additional piece of information. My mother had noticed that her eyes seemed really bothered after filing paper that had either been photocopied or was NCR paper. This is carbonless carbon paper; NCR stands for "no carbon required."

I was fascinated. I knew that printer cartridges could contaminate indoor air. As described in our learning center article, How small is a micron and why does it matter?, particles from laser printers and copiers are actually among the most dangerous indoor air pollutants:

The size of a given particle helps to determine the degree of potential threat to human health. Particles ranging from .3 to .9 micron present the greatest health concern.

These irritating mid-range particles include … particles from laser printers and copiers. Particles in this size range (.3 to .9 micron) are small enough to get past the tiny hairs that line our breathing passages and too large to be easily exhaled.

Because mid-range particles are more likely to become lodged in lung tissue, they are suspect in a wide range of health problems related to indoor air pollution--from headaches and dizziness to cardiovascular disease and cancer.
So these particles might be part of the source of irritation. Personal air purifiers are excellent for situations such as this. A mask might also help, but it would be a lot less comfortable. And if itching eyes were the result of one person's relatively minor exposure to photocopy particles, imagine how compounded the effect is for those who work in offices packed with cubicles, multiple printers, photocopiers, co-workers with perfume, off-gassing carpet, etc.

Another thought I had, in relation to the carbonless copy paper my mom was handling, is that the connection between BPA and allergies, as discussed in BPA, Allergies, and Asthma might be at play here. Here's why: As The Soft Landing blog points out in Can BPA Be Absorbed Through the Skin?, "BPA on a receipt is 250 to 1,000 times greater than the amount of BPA typically found in a can of food or a can of baby formula." Most receipts use the same paper that's found in carbonless copy paper, so the same should apply to NCR paper.

ScienceNews.com's article Concerned About BPA: Check Your Receipts corroborates the point. Organic chemist John C. Warner says, "The average cash register receipt that's out there and uses the BPA technology will have 60 to 100 milligrams of free BPA.” ScienceNews.com clarifies, "By free, he explains, it’s not bound into a polymer, like the BPA in polycarbonates. It’s just the individual molecules loose and ready for uptake." Uptake, as in absorption through the skin. I wonder if BPA in this case can also be airborne.

What to do about this exposure, especially since it's difficult to avoid receipts? The Soft Landing offers the following tips:

  • Minimize receipt collection by declining receipts at gas pumps, ATMs and other machines when possible.

  • Store receipts separately in an envelope in a wallet or purse.

  • Never give a child a receipt to hold or play with.

  • After handling a receipt, wash hands before preparing and eating food (a universally recommended practice even for those who have not handled receipts).

  • Do not use alcohol-based hand cleaners after handling receipts. A recent study showed that these products can increase the skin’s BPA absorption (Biedermann 2010).

  • Take advantage of store services that email or archive paperless purchase records.

  • Do not recycle receipts and other thermal paper. BPA residues from receipts will contaminate recycled paper.

  • If you are unsure, check whether paper is thermally treated by rubbing it with a coin. Thermal paper discolors with the friction; conventional paper does not.
Since BPA is absorbed through the skin, it might also be a good idea for cashiers and others who handle a lot of receipts – or other carbonless paper – to wear gloves while they work. The Environmental Protection Agency is concerned enough about this matter of BPA exposure through receipts that it put out an article on the topic, BPA Alternatives in Thermal Paper Partnership.

We hope as awareness of these toxins and how we are exposed to them grows that more and more sources of allergy triggers will be addressed. As always, we will stay abreast of news in the topic and pass it along to you.

Tags: Masks, MCS, IAQ
8 Comments
On 2/20/2013 George Baines wrote:
For a few years now I have been experiencing problems with the skin on my hands after handling paper, especially after it comes out of a photocopier and also if it is coarse newspaper.
The skin appears to die and then peels off after a while.
I did not used to get these problems I am 64. Could this be due to BPA in re-cycled paper? Are some people more sensitive to BPA than others?
On 2/20/2013 George Baines wrote:
Thanks for your reply.
I'm pretty sure that it's not the newsprint as I associate greatest reaction from touching the edge of the sheets. I feel slight discomfort from this straightaway and if I then wash my hands immediately the side-effects later seem to be less. There may be something else they are putting on the paper that is affecting me. I wonder whether the fact that the paper is heated in the photo-copier has a bearing on how whatever-it-is is released.
On 4/26/2013 Nancy wrote:
I have NOT been bothered by photocopies or receipts, but I am EXTREMELY affected by NCR paper. Just filling out one form and my eyes and nose itch and I start coughing. I have found that anything that gets it "away from me" is effective, washing my hands with soap and water and rubbing some water on my nose is my preferred method; but alcohol-based hand cleaner is my next choice - I've found that it seems to get whatever is airborne and bothering me is no longer airborne and my allergy symptoms do not advance.
On 9/14/2013 Lisa wrote:
I work in a retail store, where we put up store tags weekly. My hands just burn while I do this. It's only when I hang the tags.
On 11/18/2013 Patricia wrote:
In 2008, at age 50+, I started to have a terrible reaction on the fingertips and hands. It was like my skin was burned. It was itchy, burned, would split open and bleed. For years I could not figure out what was the culprit. I went to allergists, dermatologist, had all kinds of testing and nothing. I did narrow it down to the paper I was handling and now wear gloves when I can which I do believe has helped tremendously but I still do get reactions but not as bad. It is embarrassing at my age to always wear bandaids all over my fingers and hands. This is the first I've seen this post. Maybe the problem really is paper and or BPA, NCR. What do you think? I am at my wit's end! Thank you!
On 3/8/2014 Martha wrote:
Patricia, I have a very similar problem. The pores on my right hand where it rests on paper when I right it raised in bumps, red and irritated. I thought it might be a soap allergy but switching soap didn't improve it. Thanks for the glove idea.
On 3/10/2014 Patricia wrote:
Hope the gloves help Martha. I wear nitrile gloves at work and around home when I can but can't wear them all the time without looking silly so I do still have outbreaks which I do think may be from receipt paper. I am having a terrible outbreak right now and its awful. Hurts, bleeds. I'm hoping the problem will go away some day as quickly as it appeared. Good Luck.
On 3/28/2014 George Baines wrote:
Over the last few years I have noticed a similar problem to Patricia's as well as that recorded in my earlier posts, with the skin generally at the end of my fingers usually thumb, index or middle sometimes hardening and cracking then bleeding from the wound and being itchy. Generally I have to put plasters on with Savlon or similar to get these to heal up. I haven't correlated this so directly with the paper-handling as the other effect, which is more noticeably on the pads of the fingers than on the tips. It seems to be worse overnight, once started, and I wonder whether there could even be an allergy to something in the bed-sheets? More comments please!
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