Some wearers of spectacles are more sensitive when it comes to glasses. A small percentage of them can even be allergic to glasses frames. In this article, you will learn which materials could cause problems and what alternatives you should look for.
Typical forms of allergic skin irritation from glasses frames are manifested by edema, redness, wheals, and itching. The very itchy elevations of the skin are white to pale red in color. Deeper skin swellings (angioedema) also frequently form.
In a lot of cases for the affected wearer of spectacles, it is not totally clear which frames could contain the allergens producing the reaction. This was also stated in a study by Glyn Walsh in 2006.
The lack of any real control over spectacle frame quality and content is indicated to be a problem, as is the difficulty in determining the true source of many frames. Much of the information must be obtained from anonymous sources in the industry, historical ‘common knowledge’ of indeterminate source or reports of dermatological problems.Glyn Walsh (Link to Study)
It is also congruent with my experiences as an optician. You can not get data on the ingredients in the materials easily. The only option oftentimes is to ask for a specific chemical and the manufacturer then will tell the professional if is in the frame or not. Typical problematic chemicals are:
- Palladium found in Titanium Frames
- Nickel sometimes found in “Nickel Free” frames
- Plasticizer found in acetate frames
- Polycarbonate found in plastic frames
The problem occasionally is the frames contain a combination of materials, making it difficult to determine the exact composition. Furthermore allergic reactions while wearing glasses do not have to come from the base material itself. In some cases, it is the coating that prevents the colors of the frame from UV light, a certain dye, or deposits from cosmetics or solvents.
How To Avoid Allergic Reactions To Glasses Frames?
In most cases, the easiest way for you to find glasses you will not show allergic reactions to is when you know the allergens that cause the problem. Then the optician can ask the manufacturer if the material contains the allergens.
It sounds silly because in an optical shop a lot of frames are labeled as nickel-free or generally speaking as hypoallergenic. But the optician in the shop can not test all the frames. This is why in some cases even titanium frames contain nickel and of course cause problems.
Especially when you showed allergic signs to your glasses frames in the past I recommend working with an optician that has an eye on your case. Because even if the frame is perfect for you but in the end, the lens is a little too small. Oftentimes what happens is a little latex glue is added to make the lenses fit better in the frame. It is just a thin layer between your frame and your lenses.
But even those little additions can cause problems. So let a professional guide you who is experienced with allergies. If you are unsure ask if you could take the frame home and wear it for a few hours. My recommendations when it comes to materials for people that showed allergic signs to glasses frames are the following:
- Wooden frames
Again just because the label says so does not mean it does not contain anything that could potentially lead to an allergic reaction. So ask the optician before you buy. I also suggest going with the more premium frames. Oftentimes their quality management is better compared to the cheaper frames.
Watch out for little scratches on your frames
In a lot of cases, allergic signs do not show up right away when the glasses are bought. Only after time problems or allergic reactions show up. In a lot of cases, this happens due to tiny scratches in the coating when the frame wears off. And with tiny I mean so tiny you can not possibly see them with your eyes.
This is why the glasses frames were examined with an electron microscope in a really interesting study.
A total of 42 Korean patients with ACD at the spectacle contact sites were enrolled. Their spectacle frames were examined with the dimethylglyoxime (DMG) test and analyzed by the scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS). Patch tests (thin-layer rapid use epicutaneous test [TRUE tests]) were performed to identify the skin allergens.Extract of the study done by In Su Kim
In this study Nickel sulfate was the most common allergen (31 cases, 73.8%), and potassium dichromate was the second (9 cases, 21.4%). It is definitely concerning that many labeled frames (especially the flexible titanium ones) are labeled as hypoallergenic. When in reality they contain up to 40% of nickel as mentioned in a previous study done by Gly Walsh.
The nickel is oftentimes added to achieve flexibility. Because without it titanium by itself is pretty inflexible and brittle. With other frames nickel is added to improve the durabilty of the alloys of the frame.
As an optician, I see even visible scratches every day on the parts of the frames that touch the skin. Depending on how the frames are used, the quality of the frame, the sweat, and the skin the frames wear out faster or slower. Oftentimes when a customer shows allergic reactions to a frame the only solution is to switch to another one.
In some cases it is possible to switch parts like the nose pads or temple tips. This way another material touches your skin and therefore the allergic reaction disappears.
Reccomended materials for nose pads are:
When it comes to allergic reactions from glasses frames I wish the manufacturers were more transparent with what they are using. It is a possibility to switch frames when problems come up but with all the data and studies I mentioned here, I wish the situation for the opticians and wearers of spectacles was a lot more transparent.