Epoxy Sensitivity

Here are some quotes from other users with allergy experience.
It's a growing collection e-mails about this thread on various forums.
Beware, this is not a cheerful reading matter. 



I have seen symptoms occur in 2 ways.  One is your throat and lungs mainly from the fumes can be sensitized.  After being away from the epoxy for months I can come in contact with the fumes and get a constricted throat and windpipe almost instantly and it will last for weeks.  A friend of mine has a major problem with dermatitis on his skin.  He comes out in a mess of red raw rash all over.  He has gradually got worse despite long breaks from epoxy but is now wearing a full air supply suite (in the tropics) to do any epoxy work, or employing someone else.  When he gets really bad he goes to sea and spends as much time as possible in the sea water.  He reckons this helps heal it all up ready for the next dose.  You have to be dedicated to put up with, or as I prefer, be bloody stupid.


Anyone and everyone eventually becomes sensitized to epoxy - that is the problem. Dust from sanding, fumes and direct exposure all are problem areas

I have become sensitive and have to take care.

The usual route is direct exposure - that's why you see the professionals in the white suits masks etc. Follow their routine, sweat like mad - but don't become sensitive

My skin is now that when I get epoxy it on I come out in a raw crusting rash - the best is if I get if cleaned off immediately is just to get away with a bad red rash for 2-3 days.

My eyes/nose stream and become read on dust exposure - so it is gloves and googles when sanding with lots of open air.

 I thought for years it won't happen to me...   So take the advice and protect yourself.


He ignored the effects of the rash he kept getting and his skin got so bad that he couldn't make a fist or even grasp a basketball without cracking it and causing bleeding.  This went on for about 5 years, then his reactions went away and he is now de-sensitized.  IMHO, that's pretty extreme medicine. Bloody stupid, I believe was the quote ;-)

I became somewhat sensitized, but just get itchy with maybe a bit of rash. Another person working on my boat got so bad that if he got even a drop on his skin *anywhere*, the inside of his elbows and the backs of his knees would get a horrid rash.


There is an other point to all this. without going into the molecular biology of it, epoxy can interfere with your dna: in a nutshell, it is persistant and exposure now may not express an effect for months or even years to come. So. Just 'cos you ain't affected yet, doesn't mean to say you won't be affected in future - even if you never touch the stuff again.
It's dangerous.


Q: I've read that exposure to epoxy leads to allergic sensitization, but haven't read what kind of sensitization occurs.

A: Contact dermatitis is by far the most common. Caused mostly by skin exposure to the hardener, but also to a lesser extent to the resin.

Q: Has any member on the list been sensitized to epoxy?

A: Many. You can actually become sensitized the *first* time you are exposed to uncured epoxy.

Q: Will cured epoxy dust cause sensitization?

A: Dust *always* contains small amounts of uncured hardener and resin...

Q: What are the symptoms of sensitization?

A: Covered by others. These reports are *not* exaggerated and *are* typical.

Q: How is it treated?

A: Permanent distance from uncured hardener and resin is the only certain cure. Understand, this means if you get sensitized, you *leave* the boatbuilding business--or suffer horribly, as related here.

Q: How long does treatment last?

A: Only so long as you stay away from epoxy. It's for life.

*Always* suit up. *Always* wear a quality mask (not a paper one...). *Always* wear gloves, and change them often. If you can, use resin systems designed for home builders, such as WEST or System III. These use the least toxic resins and hardeners available. Do some hard research into epoxy toxicity. WEST and System III spend a lot of time and energy educating their customers. Check them out.


My brother has an allergy to epoxy, he gets welts between his fingers and toes, first then welts elsewhere blood is close to the surface. He gets the reaction from everything from unmixed resin to dust from sanding. He wears nonlatex gloves which are chemically close to epoxy and also cause allergy. Other than skin problems he has no other reaction. I have been told that there are two kinds of epoxy, one that causes skin allergies and one that causes liver problems, West epoxy is of the skin variety, Saf-t-Poxie(sp) is of the liver variety. My own personal reaction is severe thirst and lack of appetite for a few hours.


1. When this was last discussed a few years back one of the dire warnings was to NOT wear latex gloves. Use washing up gloves or chemical gauntlets. Apart from possible sensitivity to the powder _inside_ the gloves (honest !) some of the chemicals travel through latex and become even more toxic for it.

2. Most epoxy hardeners are proven carcinogens. be extremely careful.

3. A lot of the documentation is couched in pleasant language. A particular epoxy is not evil and deadly but "aggressive".

4. For sure some are more aggressive than others but on the basis of no free lunches alone my guess is that the more aggressive probably stick better. SP Ampreg 20 seems moderately benign with apparent much lower levels of fumes but this is my feeling not a scientific analysis.

5. For sticking stuff together Ciba Geigy 2000 series resins are available in self mixing guns. Optimum mix, minimal contact with the product, maximum price. The stick airbusses together with this stuff though.

6. Acetone is evil stuff. Apart from completely denuding the skin of its natural oils it washes whatever is on the skin straight through and into the system. Probably not the substance with which to remove epoxy hardener from the skin ! I understand vinegar works OK with epoxy.

7. Before we run off and abandon composite boats, I should point out that quite a number of woods and wood glues are toxic as well :-)


I have been using the Aplied Poleramics epoxies on the outside of my first hull and I have started to get a nasty rash and I was starting to get concerned about all the work in tight spaces where it would be just about impossible to get the stuff from getting all over me.

After talking to the designer I am going to do the underwater parts of the boat in epoxy (and finish odd the 55 gallon drum that I have) and do the remainder in vinylester so that I can go sailing without looking like a strawberry.


First of all, I have a very sensitive skin. I have always used barrier cream and gloves, but in the very beginning I was not careful enough and sometimes still got in contact with small amounts of resin or not fully cured epoxy. That, plus sanding not fully cured epoxy did it for me.

Watch out: if your allergy is as bad as mine it does not mean a little bit of itching.  What I am talking about is waking up next day with a bad rash (from dust) and/or badly healing itching bubbles from contact with resin. Both require a new layer of skin every time! I am extremely careful now and can work without much trouble.

Here is what I learned:

Most dangerous: Unnoticed contamination of work area, tools, dust mask particularly the bands that hold it, gloves and cloths. Preferably wear a dust mask all the time while in your work area.

Gloves: Disposable gloves ( not latex!) rip very easily and I generally find them to be too short. There is a big risk of touching something with you wrist, particularly when handling large amounts of fairing compound or laminating in difficult spots. So I also used disposable plastic sleeves to protect the arms. Problem: rubber bands and they will not stay in place. So I switched to long sleeved, thicker re-usable gloves. Next problem is then contamination of the inside.

Here is my more or less foolproof system:

A. Mixing, Laminating and putty work:

1. Long sleeved shirt.
2. Barrier cream on hands , arms and (important) face, neck .
3. then disposable gloves
4. then disposable plastic sleeves up to the elbows, in which I poke a hole to put my thumb through so that they stay in place
5. on top: long sleeved rubber gloves thick or thin depending on job. Sometimes it is still necessary for very delicate jobs to work just with the disposable gloves and sleeves.
6. Dust mask for making up fairing compound.

I actually  re-use the disposable gloves if they are still clean and the sleeves from fairing work several times, but always rest them for at least a week and inspect them before re-use.

B. Sanding:
I find sanding dust a big problem, especially in the face and on the back of my hands. I tried wet sanding but found it even worse than living with the dust. Avoid sanding uncured epoxy. Preferably wait a week or so before sanding! (Of course, in real life that is impossible!)  Be especially careful when temperatures are low.

For hand-sanding not hundred percent cured epoxy/fairing compound:

1. Wear long sleeved shirts and pants. Wash after every use. I tried the Tyvek disposable suits, but found that I needed too many of them. They rip too easily.
2. Barrier cream as above
3. then thin (disposable) cotton gloves . Change cotton gloves every few hours. Sweat and sanding dust are a very bad combination. Wash the cotton gloves after every use.
4. Then long sleeved rubber gloves on top. (do not use them for wet epoxy work)
5. Tyvek-style disposable hood to keep dust away from hair, neck if sanding above breast level.
6. Good dust mask, not the disposable ones, you will need far too many and the good ones are expensive! Clean dusk mask regularly.
7. If sanding overhead: Goggles. Never rub eyes!
8. Have vacuum cleaner running when sanding really fresh fairing compound for repair work
9. Shower immediately after work.
10. Avoid sanding several weeks in a row.

If for any reason you still touch resin or uncured epoxy, immediately clean it with special resin cleaning paste and water. Take contaminated cloths of immediately and clean the area underneath! I found that I can avoid a serious reaction if I do it quickly enough!

I still sometimes get a rash under the rim of the mask, (Sweat, rubbing rubber and collecting dust).  If I would start again, I would invest in one of the face masks/hoods with a battery driven forced air system on your hip that puts the hood under a slight over pressure. I tried them:  very comfortable,  no sweat, no goggles,.. but they cost from $ 600 upwards.

I have not had real problems for several months now and certainly will continue to work with epoxy.
   Hope this helps.


I've been using epoxy as an amateur boatbuilder off and on for 32 years. I'd guess I've been through roughly 150 gallons.  I've never had any reactions from it.  Though I always wear gloves now, I often didn't or was sloppy about getting it on my skin in the early days.  I never used solvent to clean skin though.  I often would sand without a mask if I was outdoors and not breathing a lot of dust, though I usually would use a mask or
kerchief.  Now I wear a respirator for sanding.   I usually only use a respirator for application if I am in an enclosed space.  If I am mixing and resining all day, after a few hours I can "taste" epoxy, which is kind of creepy, but after awhile it goes away.  I used mostly WEST but have switched to System Three the last 5 years or so.  I'd say that on  a scale of 1 to 10 my safety precautions rate about a 5 to 7.  I can only think that I have
been lucky to not have had a reaction from it.  I think a lot of it depends on personal chemistry.  Some people can bathe in it and nothing happens and others look at it and break out.  Working clean and not trusting to luck is the smart thing to do.  Anyone starting to use it has no way to know if they will be lucky or not, and in the middle of a big project allergic reaction can be disastrous.


Here is just one link about this allergy:

Of interest is..."Rubber gloves are not completely impermeable to the chemicals involved, but help to minimize contact."

As a person who has seen the dangers of anaphylactic shock, and the extreme consequences of it...I would caution those builders who are starting to develop this allergy to read up on it...and don't trust wrapping yourself in "bags" as a prevention. Also read up on what you can do if you start to have a severe reaction (like benadryl, epi pens etc). I have seen allergies that were taken for granted, literally kill people in a short amount of time. In every case, the person was not prepared for the reaction.

There has been no reported fatalities from epoxy resins, but there are many cases where there was "respiratory" involvement. This can be bad news if not treated (even by you) in time.

Please see your doctor and get competent advise until your boats are finished if you have this allergy.


I have been working with epoxy resins for 30 years, and still suffer the occasional bout of rashes, sneezes and sniffles, when I am careless, or working in an enclosed space.  A lot of the reactive effect comes from inhaling the vapours, particularly with some of the faster amines in the formulation.  Wearing a dust mask, or a vapour mask (usually much more expensive, and heavier) helps. 

The other tip is to try taking Vitamin E tablets.  I find that doses or around 2000 to 3000 IU twice a day will keep the reactions under control, and allow me to sleep.  That is when the taking a break therapy comes in.

I have seen no lasting effects from these allergies, although some colleagues may have different opinions.....


Epoxy makes my skin break out in a rash also. It never bothered me for years but it finally caught me. I only use it for woodworking and I am OK if I wear gloves and clean up with denatured alcohol and soap.


Epoxy exposure is awful. Rashes and blisters are the tip of the iceberg. It can lead to respiratory failure and/or cardiac failure. Be careful with it. I use a tyvek suit with a hood and gloves, my wrists and ankels taped, respirator, and Goggles, not glasses, since vapors still get in through the soft tissue, and baby powder on my exposed skin.


Vapor from most epoxies is much lower than it's polyester counterparts. The resins we produce (Resin Research Epoxies) are all high solids and have 1/50th the vapor of polyester surfboard resins. In our shop (which is well ventilated) we don't even wear masks. Epoxy is also NOT a carcinogen. That has been well proven by OSHA and many others in industry. What epoxy is, is a skin sensitizer. This varies greatly between different epoxy systems depending on different company formulations. Most older epoxy hardeners are formulated with a chemical known as TETA or another called DETA. These base hardeners are in the aliphatic amine family, are very reactive, somewhat unstable, quite toxic and easily can cause sensitization of the skin (or dermatitis). Most of these hardeners are also modified with phenol and formaldehyde. Phenol is what dermatologists use for chemical skin peels and increases TETA and DETA's toxicity to the skin dramatically. Many of these older hardeners are up to 50% phenol. Formaldehyde is also no picnic as it also increases risk because of it's ability to act as a vehicle for the phenol and amines through the skin and into the blood system. By the way, the reason these epoxy hardeners are still used today is because they're CHEAP. DETA and TETA cost 1/5 what a modern diamine based hardener costs to produce. Anyone who has worked with many of the West System epoxies are familiar with these low cost systems.
Modern epoxy hardeners are nothing like their 60's counterparts. As I mentioned above, they are formulated with modern diamines and have vastly reduced incidences of sensitization. They also have lower vapor, better color, better finish, and lower exotherm. They contain NO phenol and NO formaldehyde. Our company was one of the first in the US to formulate and market diamine based epoxy hardeners 20 years ago which gives us an edge in experience with these chemicals. As superior as they are they still must be respected as skin sensitizers. The simple way to eliminate problems related to dermatitis in the workplace is to reduce or preferably eliminate contact with the skin. This means gloves. That's it. We wear disposable vinyl gloves. Vinyl is preferable to rubber because rubber gloves are also skin sensitizers. The other, even more harmful, ingredient is contaminated acetone. Like formaldehyde above it is a vehicle for toxins into the bloodstream. Fortunately epoxy can be cleaned up with soap and water. Not standard bar soap but with products like Go-Jo and Fast Orange. These products are water based and don't act as a vehicle the way VOC solvents do.
In 20 years of producing epoxy surfboards we have NEVER had one incidence of dermatitis in our shop. I have also NEVER seen a case of dermatitis that didn't have something to do with the co-toxin acetone. Given the aforementioned resin parameters and if shop practice adheres to the above suggestions, epoxy resins are MUCH safer to use for producing surfboards than their polyester counterparts.

Bottom line,
1. wear disposible vinyl gloves
2. don't use acetone
3. work in well ventilated areas
4. clean skin with GoJo or another waterless cleaner
5. Shower after work including hair
6. Don't leave sanding dust on your skin for long periods.


My biggest advice is to wear cheap cotton gloves inside your vinyl or latex, and be very anal when taking them off. The most common mistake is to touch your inside wrist with a sticky thumb. The inside wrist is a gateway to being sensitized. The cotton absorbs sweat, allowing the glove to slide off easy.


Around seven or eight I had been at the finishing stage of my build and was applying Zpoxy to grain fill the EIR used for the body of this instrument. In fact you may even recall a tutorial I posted back around that time showing how I use syringes to insure an equal mixture when measuring out the small quantity required when using this product.

My first recollection of what would turned out to be a series of unfortunate assumptions by myself, and others, which eventually led to much suffering and a challenge to my over all health as great as anything I have had to face during a most adventurous and gamely 50 years of life, was of a sunny weekend afternoon. The wind had picked up, but earlier that day, in the calm bright morning, I had noticed a swarm of small sandflies hovering over the grass of our backyard. I believe these ‘biting midges’ or sandflies as they are commonly known here in Australia are a world wide annoyance, so anyone who has spent time in a topic, sub-tropic or temperate coastal region should know all too well of the pest I am talking about. Anyhow the relevance of these little buggers will soon become very clear, but here is a link which describes the evil little blood suckers to which I refer.


As mentioned, I had been working out in my shed most of that and the previous day. It had been quite frustrating more so than enjoyable as I had encountered some kind of contamination actually ‘in’ rather than ‘on’ the rosewood. This contamination had presented itself as quite large fisheye, yes large fisheye even in neat epoxy, so you can imagine my concerns over what would happen under a much less viscose finishing medium such as nitro. So I took my concerns to good friend, master craftsman and finishing expert, Allen McFarlen of Barron River Guitars in Cairns north QLD, http://www.brguitars.com/brg/Home.html and Allen’s advice, following his years of experience in the auto refinishing industry, had seen me continuing a regime that would hopefully reduce and isolate the contamination under epoxy so that finish could then be safely applied ‘over’ the contamination.

This regime was a simple enough process which involved first thoroughly washing down the well cured coat of the epoxy grain filler with naphtha (what we call shellite or white spirit here in Australia) using fresh clean rag and then, sanding off the epoxy back to wood before cleaning the guitar down again with fresh rag and more naphtha, then applying fresh epoxy and repeating the process. Having completed the process twice over two days my hopes were up as it appeared to be working out quite well. Indeed the fisheye had diminished considerably both in dimension and frequency to a point where I was now quite confident that just a few more applications would see the problem contained completely under the epoxy as per plan.

Happy enough with progress, it had come time to leave the shed, go back in the house, have a shower, get dinner for my kids, and have myself a beer. My Wife works afternoons of the weekends so I normally play Mr Mum to a pair of excellent girls who make this role a real joy. Anyhow, to paint the scene, our house is a very old and quite run-down Jarrah weatherboard affair. It sits upon a fairly large 1950’s suburban residential lot which has since been re-zoned for units construction. Being less than 5 minutes walk to the cool waters of the Indian Ocean, the land is quite desirable, however the house or cottage if you like, presents no incentive for renovation as it will one day soon be bulldozed to make way for development, but in the meantime, we get by just fine in the shack.

The sun was now beginning to set and as mentioned the wind, or sea breeze, had picked up to be quite blustery as is often the way of the “Fremantle Doctor*” in the later part of a warm Perth afternoon. As a result, the pilot light in the old gas instantaneous hot water system attached to the outside wall of our bathroom had been blown out. Unless it’s been a real howler of a day, you don’t generally discover the absents of this pilot light until you are actually in the bathroom, have stripped down naked, turned on the shower and are greeted by only cold water. This usually evokes some sort of profanity from me before I pull on my boxers, throw on a bluey and head outside in the wind, and sometimes rain to spend the next half hour trying to light the dam thing. In one of those most confounding things about life, this only happens ‘just’ frequently enough to not warrant paying for a new heater to see us over until we move on.

After 20 minutes outside with the cigarette lighter kept specifically for this job, I finally get the heater cranked up and enjoy a nice hot shower. Whilst towelling off, I notice the usual itch and white bumps left by the mozzies who had obviously once again had a feed at my expense while I had been out there in the relative calmness of that unkempt area which houses the heater. I ignored the bites; I got dressed, knocked the top off a coldie, made dinner, watched teli, and went to bed. Later that night, about 3am, I was awoken by an itch on my lower legs and the inner area of my arms. I went into the living room to have a look at the areas affected and yep, sure enough, sandfly bites on both legs and my arms. I hate sandflies; you can’t even feel them going about their business, but a few hours later, oh man the itch! Sort of thing where if you scratch here, it will itch more there, and so on, and so on, until you go nuts. The worst of it is that the itch hangs around for about a week. I figured the pesky little so and so’s must have ganged up with the mosquitoes and savaged me while I was out side lighting the heater. I gave the affected areas a heavy splash of calamine lotion which settled things down quite quickly and I went back to bed.

The morning was again very calm and sunny, and as I passed a small black swarm of sandflies hovering over the backyard, I shook my fist in anger at them but kept my distance as I made my way into the shed and shut the door behind me. I then pulled on the old tack suit pants I had worn yesterday to keep the dust off me up and over the top of my shorts. I took off my sandals and put on socks and runners, I then put on the same dusty long sleaved shirt I had worn yesterday over the fresh T shirt I was wearing, and I also put on a twin cartridge respirator, a pair of disposable gloves, and began to wash down the guitar with naphtha. Allowing that to gas-off, I then swapped out the respirator for a quality dust mask and started sanding off the epoxy applied the last evening. Once that was complete, I swapped out the dust mask for the respirator and made a fresh mix of epoxy.

One thing I had tried on the previous coat, was to thin the epoxy with alcohol by around 50% prior to application with the plan being the alcohol may dilute the contamination more effectively and the thinner mix may allow the now diluted contamination to rise more freely through the epoxy to be cleaned or sanded off. I felt that as the initial coat had been applied neat and had effectively done its job in filling most the grain, this thinned coat could completely sanded away and should not present any problems. My theory seemed to have worked quite well knocking the fisheye problem back considerably, so I decided to do this same thinning process once again.

I applied the new coat and left the area removing my protective gear outside so it could air. Given the warm weather, around 8 hours later on that same day, I went back out to repeat the process for what I was hoping would be the final time. When I finished that application, I packed up and went inside to repeat much the same routine of the previous evening less the annoying trip outside in my underwear to light the water heater. As anyone would know who has ever been savaged these things, the hot shower had caused the sandfly bites to become really itchy. Bloody annoying thing because I knew the itch would be around for over a week or so. The bites start out as just tiny little red bumps on your skin, the itch is so bad that you will most likely scratch the top off at some point so they fester a little and itch a lot. I really do not get the point of them quite frankly, sure come and have a feed on me, your welcome, but why leave me in such discomfort for so long? Ungrateful little so and so’s.

So on it went, scratching and calamine, calamine and scratching, nothing too bad, but very annoying. The next day when I check my legs it looks like I have been bitten again? The light had blown in the computer room, the globe is part of a ceiling fan and quite unique and I did not have a spare. As a result, I had spent a fair bit of the last evening on the PC in the dark and put this latest attack down to a successful covert operation by my nemesis the sandflies, but all jokes aside, you need to understand this ITCH! Many years ago I had lived on an island in QLD, I knew all too well about sandflies and how some people can have a nasty allergic reaction. I even learnt that antihistamines where the answer if things got really bad and they had. I went down the chemist, or what our American friends would call a drug store or dispensary, explained my dilemma, and was given some off the shelf low dose hay fever tablets, I got home and took a couple and, as expected, the itch subsided considerably.

Next day I woke up and the skin between bites was beginning to welt up and join together in a kind of yellow white pinkish rash and the freak’ in itch was just unfreak’in believable. This sort of reaction had ‘never’ happened to me before and now, not even the antihistamines where working that well. I went back down to the chemist and showed the pharmacist my arms and pulling up one leg of my trousers, I showed her my inner calf. The pharmacist told me that I am having a severe allergic reaction to the sandfly bites. I made mention of the fact that I had never reacted to them in this way before. The pharmacist explained that it was probably the case that my immune system had now weekend with middle age and as a result, I react more strongly now than I had in my youth.

The pharmacist then reached behind the counter and handed over a box of 25mg Phenergan which are a somewhat stronger antihistamine than those first taken. These new tablets did settle the itch but I needed the maximum of 3 a day for them to be effective and this made me so drowsy I did not want to do much but lay down, so I could not go to work. I continued taking the Phenergan for another two days by which time I had a suspicion that things where still getting steadily worse, however I could not be sure as I did not fully trust my own judgement.

It needs to be understood that by this stage, with the constant ingestion of this powerful sedative like pill, I was not myself anymore. I have never suffered hay fever in my life so have never had a need to take antihistamines and naturally had no tolerance whatsoever to their powerful sedative affect. I ‘suspected’ that the itch was growing stronger, it ‘seemed’ to have become almost constant despite the use of Phenergan, but I was unsure if this was a reality, or a magnification effect from days of relentless irritation, coupled with this powerful drug now making me imagine that it was worse. I also ‘suspected’ that the rash was growing. It ‘seemed’ as if it was travelling from my crotch (yes indeed there to) and moving down my legs and from my calves up toward my crotch. It also appeared to be moving up and down my arms from the inside of my forearms.

In moment of clarity, I took a permanent marker pen and marked the outer extremities of this insidious rash on my leg to try and confirm my suspicion. This had to be done as the changes, if indeed there were any, were happening very gradually, far too gradual for me to accurately pin point from the clouded drug swept memory of an hour ago, and yesterdays memories were just too far away to even consider. The next day it became very clear I was in some trouble. The rash had indeed grown well past the marker pen and the swelling in my legs had increased to a point where all definition was lost between knee and ankle, and the itch, the itch was now so intense it was all I could do to prevent myself from tearing my flesh from my bones. The only way I can define this is to say that the itch was not ‘on’ my skin rather it was deep ‘in’ my skin and flesh, the effect was completely maddening.

I made my way to the emergency department of the local hospital. I explained the sandflies, the pharmacist, the Phenergan, the lack of previous reaction to sandflies, the hobby and recent use of epoxy, the lack of history of an allergic reactions to anything at all in my entire life, etc, etc, etc. Blood was taken several times and many more question asked. Eventually, it was suggested that as a result of an allergic reaction to the sandflies, I now had a secondary bacterial infection or cellulitis in my right leg, this was a big concern so I was admitted to hospital and given IV antibiotics over the course of that afternoon and throughout the night. The next day the swelling had not subsided, nor had the itch and I cannot for the life of me understand how much more intense it could have been if not for the Phenergan.

Here is an image taken with my phone of what my inner right forearm looked like as I presented at the hospital.

The doctor done his rounds telling me that the swelling in my leg was so bad it had restricted circulation to such an extent as to prevent the antibiotics from getting in there to do there work. He said it could be some time before they do the job and I would need to just lay down with my legs raised for a week or so and let it happen. Rather than have me take up a much needed hospital bed, the doctor sent me home on the “Hospital In The Home” program (HITH). This would see me at home with an IV shunt still in the back of my hand, and a HITH nurse come visit me each day to inject antibiotics into the shunt until the infection was bought under control.

Here is an image of the shunt, when they stuck this in, the skin under the cello tape holding things in place was clear of the rash, a few days later when this image was taken you can see it has travelled right across my hand under the tape and it could not be scratched, so it seemed to itch more here than elsewhere on that arm.

The itch remained, the Phenergan continued supplemented by codeine forte required to manage a pre-existing back problem which, among other things, restricts my ability to lay down for extended periods. The nurse continued to visit each day with her big horse syringe and the rash continued to grow. After a few days I was sure the antibiotics where having no affect whatsoever. In my drugged out wanderings I made my way to the PC and Googled “Epoxy Allergies” and I came across this site.


Having read that bit of info, I went to the Zpoxy website and downloaded a few pdf files. The HITH nurse dropped in to give me my daily injection and I showed her the information. She immediately made an appointment for me to see the ID doctor at Fremantle hospital which is the hub for the HITH program. When I seen this guy he was not impressed with my self diagnosis and suggested that he had seen this before, he said that if I was having an allergic reaction, it most probably to the antibiotics they had been giving me so they would need to be changed, when he came to his senses shortly after I had introduced him to Rpokim (Really Pissed Off Kim), he agreed that what I had was indeed most probably Epoxy Contact Dermatitis and that his antibiotics would do nothing to help me so he removed the shunt. I then ask what can be done? He suggested that it will just take time to clear from my system, that I should go home, keep my legs raised, and keep taking the antihistamines. I told him how they seem to have become much less effective of late. He said he would prescribe a different kind that should do the trick.

I got home and took the new antihistamine and found out shortly afterwards just how affective the Phenergan had been, the new tablets where useless. I stayed at home for a couple more days and things were still getting worst. Despite moisturiser creams and other anti itch concoctions, my legs looked horrendous and my arms where pretty bad too but not as bad as the legs they where shocking. I ventured outside into the sun and took this next photo of my arm. Just after taking this photo, the itch flared again from the heat. I found some relief in a cold shower which rehydrated the skin diminishing some of the redness just long enough to reveal how sinister this affliction really is. Down ‘under’ my skin, I noticed the deep purple blue colour of bruising between my skin layer and muscle tissue, according to my doctor, this was the result of the haemorrhaging between the skin and muscle, nasty stuff indeed.

I went down to see my GP to see if he would euthanate me putting me out of my misery, the itch, the itch, the itch, the itch. My doctor took a look at my leg and immediately had the exact same response as every other medical practitioner who had examined me up to this point he said “Oh my gosh!” I showed him my pdf files and he agreed it was contact dermatitis. He told my I was fortunate because on that day, right across the road from his surgery was a doctor by the name of Mr Kurt Gebaur who is a specialist in industrial dermatology, and just by chance or divine intervention, Dr Kurt was doing his 1 day stop monthly round of my home town. My doctor made a call and I went across to see Dr Kurt who looked at my legs and said “Oh my gosh!” that is quite a pair of legs you have under those symmetrical erthematous eruptions, how long have you been like this? I told him just over two weeks. He shook his head and said you poor bastard. He ask “Itchy?” He then looked up at my face and seen Rpokim standing there and immediately apologised. I told him of my visit to hospital and the antibiotics. He shook his head and said nothing but did ask the name of the doctor who had diagnosed cellulitis at the hospital.

He told me that he would prescribe Prednisone, a synthetic corticosteroid, which should clear things up in a few days. With that news, I could have kissed the man’s feet. After reading the information on that link above, I now had some idea of how dangerous working with epoxy could be, but I took the opportunity to ask Dr Kurt how I had become so badly affected considering the cover up precautions I had taken?

Dr Kurt replied that epoxy fumes have about as much regard for human tissue or clothing as a barrier, as mulberry juice does, “it just goes straight in”. Dr Kurt went on to say that he sees this all the time, he told me that we are all allergic to epoxy, every one of us. That it is just a matter of time before each of us reaches the threshold of our own tolerance to exposure and become sensitised. He said that once you do become sensitised, you remain so for life and must stay away from all forms of epoxy thereafter. Dr Kurt warned that in future I must make sure I tell any dentist about my condition before they commence work on me so that due caution can be taken to not to mix the produce in the same room as me. He warned that the stronger the smell of the hardener, the more dangerous it is to use and whilst the cured product is not ‘as’ hazardous, the dust remains a dangerous sensitiser to your skin.

I wish I could now say that this was the end of this tale, but it is not, I ended up not being able to work for 3 weeks, the steroids prescribed by Dr Gebaur carry there own issues, they make you feel quite unwell as their purpose is to shut down your immune system and I believe this is to stop your body from attacking the epoxy and reacting. Seems weird I know however it really is very affective at clearing things up. The itch subsided considerably after the first day of treatment and, after about 7 days my skin settled, so I stopped taking the steroids but then came some withdraws, symptoms of which and a bit more detail of the side affects of this drug can be found here.


Here is an image of my inner right forearm about 5 days after taking the first Prednisone.

As you can see this Prednisone is not overly nice stuff but it is effective at what it does. A demonstrate of how completely un-nice epoxy is can be taken from the fact that after I stopped taking the Prednisone, the itch and skin condition came back however it was more manageable. I did not want to take the roids again because of the side affects already point out, one of which is that you become a little confused and I am not use to that, it does not sit well with me and Rpokim comes to visit with much less provocation than would normally be required, and then there is the hassle in shaking the roids off again which is an ordeal in itself and according to wiki can even prove fatal. I decided now the itch was manageable, I would wait it out in milder discomfort until the epoxy dissipates from my system, after what I had been through in the previous 2 weeks before the roids, I felt I could stand pretty much anything……………………………….I waited………it got worse. After a couple more weeks the rash was picking up some real anger again, the itch was moving toward high intensity, the skin began to peel from the palm of my hands, between my fingers and the soles of my feet, my legs began to blow up and itch and I had to face the fact that this thing aint done with me yet. I called my doctor, he said jump back on the roids and come see me in a few days and we’ll take a look, I said “Oh my gosh!”

I have now been back on the roids for 4 days, the itch is all but gone again, the swelling subsided, the rash dissipating. I did not post about this earlier because I have been waiting for the happy ending which was supposed to be weeks ago. But with so many of us using epoxy to grain fill and what not and still no end in sight for my affliction, I thought I had better get this done now so others can be informed.

If you think this will not affect you because you have never had a reaction to anything before and have used epoxy plenty of times without ill affect in the past, then you need to understand that prior to this episode I stood in your shoes. I have always had a very robust constitution, last to get crook, first to get back into it, but this has knocked the shit right out of me so be warned oh bullet proof one, read the link I posted above, in fact here it is again so you don’t need to scroll, this is important stuff.


If you took the time to read through that page one thing should be quite obvious to you now, Epoxy Sensitisation and Contact Dermatitis are NOT rare, it is normal and it WILL happen to you if you are not very careful about your levels of exposure. Here is a list of 10 tips I wish I had of known about before this happened to me, if I had, I would probably be fine today.

1: Keep a fan running on you at all times, especially during application. My theory here is that you need to keep the fumes away from your skin and clothes the best you can otherwise, as Dr Kurt said, it’s just like mulberry juice, straight in.

2: Do not assume that because the mix has cured it is safe, quite clearly it is not and from what I understand, despite the instructions saying it is OK to sand after just 6 hours, it is my opinion that you would do so at your own peril and be a fool to go anywhere near it before at least 24 hours. Bottom line watch the dust, it’s very dangerous and the greener it is the more you need to be cautious.

3: Wear long sleaves and trousers and do not keep wearing the same ones unless they have been washed between each application. This and the fact I did not run a fan was probably my biggest error, I reused the track pants assuming the dust to be inert and once they had become impregnate with dust, they proved lethal.

4: Don’t rely on disposable gloves to protect you. One submission at the above link suggest that the fumes from epoxy go right through these thin gloves breaking down some elements of their composition and increasing the over all toxicity of the epoxy that is going into your hands. After my experience, I have no problem in believing this is true, and whilst epoxy is not a known carcinogen, you don’t know what is in the gloves.

5: Do not under any circumstances use acetone to clean up. This is the very quickest way to become sensitised. The acetone will immediately remove any natural protective oils in your skin and take anything it has dissolved, that is ANYTHING it has dissolved straight into your body. If you are going to use acetone to clean up your skin, you may as well just grab yourself a syringe and wack the crap up your arm and be done with it because it is much the same deal.

6: A well ventilated work area is a real no brainer but don’t stop thinking about it just because the product has cured. Epoxy takes a very long time to cure out completely, it will gas off for days or even weeks. A lot of us have RH controlled rooms and these by their nature need to seal up quite well. Don’t leave epoxy to cure in such a room and then walk in the next day thinking all is well, you will be breathing this stuff into your skin and lungs.

7: This next one is my own theory so take it for what it is worth. I know that many use epoxy thinned with alcohol as a final wash coat to avoid any patchiness from earlier sand through. Be very, very careful with this practice. It is my thought that having the alcohol gassing off so rapidly and taking epoxy fumes with it right into your face is a great way to become sensitised really, really quickly and despite my use of a respirator was probably another big contributor to my current tale of whoa.

8: Use something else. Egg white, paste filler, pumice, whatever, but do what you can to limit your exposure. If I had it over I would meter out my exposure to epoxy like water on a lost life raft. At least doing so would have left an arrow in my quiver for when nothing else would do but epoxy. Now I have shot that arrow away into a bottomless canyon and it’s gone forever and I am still itching.

9: Use something else.

10: Use something else.

I sure hope this helps someone avoid my horrible experience. My guitar remains unfinished, before the epoxy I strung it, played it and it was great. I somehow now need to decontaminate the work area and sand off the last coat of epoxy before I can finish it. I have had offers to help from a number of good people but have refused to date as I would feel better to just suit up with lots of barrier cream and get the job done myself, this will also allow me to find my new tolerance if any. But first I need to come good, and at this stage it remains unclear when that will be. Soaking in the Indian Ocean and drinking cold beer seems to help a lot so I will stick with that regime for a while and see how things go.

One thing I now know for sure, if ever I need to find something out from someone and just they won’t tell me, all I need to do is seal them up in a room full of epoxy fumes and wait until they become sensitised. I can stand behind the safety of a steel security door with a small hole and a box of Phenergan and I can trade just one tablet every four hours for anything I want to know, the itch really is THAT bad. :twisted:

(* The Fremantle Doctor is the colloquial name given to the refreshing sea breeze which comes off the cool Indian Ocean into the coastal harbour town of Fremantle and up the Swan River to Perth. On a hot day in Perth Western Australia this breeze can mean the difference between comfort and despair, hence ‘the doctor’)


From my experience this is how it is. Much of the same info.
The hardener is the real killer.
The process is at it's most toxic as the exotherm happens ...the mix starts to kick and gives off this venomous smell.
If you have to use it use a slow mix....
Get masked or out. you need a compressor outside feeding you air.. Dont trust carbon masks ....they fail long before our nose tells us...in fact the fumes numb the smell ability. you are right about the green dust and the thinners and the gloves and the acetone. "Bondo" is not in the same category .This is polyester (fibreglass) resin still no good for you but not so toxic..sensitising as far as we know plus it stinks...Its been around for donkeys years... once again if you want to find out how toxic it is use acetone...NOT!!!
Lastly you might be able to identify early signs of sensitisation by strange small irritations (sandflys?) These include slight inflammation of the nose and particularly the eyelids ....like small red patches tiny blisters often put down to dust or something else... to end....things I wish someone had told me about epoxy....it really hates vinegar so use that to clean up


I find the sanding dust from epoxy much less irritating itch-wise than from polyester.  I prefer to use scrapers as much as possible, and sand by hand rather than machine as much as possible to reduce dust anyway.  Itching from getting the dust on you isn't an allergic reaction.

Epoxy sensitivity  (or allergy) affects some people and appears to not affect others. I've been working with it for 15 years and havent had any effects, but then I'm careful not to get it on me.
Nevertheless I certainly have had accidents...   Coming in contact with uncured epoxy (getting it on your skin) can cause a reaction.  For most it seems to take a while, one touch won't usually do it, it usually takes time to build up a sensitivity.  Some people claim to have been affected by even breathing thevapors.  After the allergy sets in, most affected people can't even be around uncured epoxy or they get an allergic reaction.  Reaction can be anything simple skin irritation/itchiness (think poison ivy) up to (rare) respiratory distress. 

Wear nitrile gloves, don't get it on you!  Everthing ever written about working with epoxy warns of this, there's no excuse for not taking precautions. While folks claim to have been affected by cured epoxy, it's
supposed to be inert once cured and can't affect you.  But breathing any dust can cause silicosis, so avoid breathing the dust too.


I have developed epoxy allergy, pretty bad. I have always wore protection, but green epoxy dust got sucked under my Tyvek suit due to arms motion when long-boarding amas. My upper torso got covered with red rash and sores, which lasted a couple of months. I stopped building for a couple of years.I am still building my F-82R (about half done), in winter, since if I cannot sail, building is next best thing.Double layer protection and a supplied air system.


As an engineer with a masters in designing boats I've spent far too much time in workshops that used epoxy. For this reason I probably take for granted the fact that people using the stuff are aware of the sensitivity issue, which is why I've never thought to post a warning when reading posts about using it. I suspect this is a much bigger problem than most people would be aware of, one workshop I worked in had three people from a staff of ten who had to leave for day when they were going to be spraying epoxy, and this was just because of the fumes from the spray booth a good 50m away. One of the guys there after years using it for a decade without a problem suddenly developed a sensitivity. It started with a rash then one day feeling that he hadn't been near the stuff for months, he walked into the booth to help out, within 10 min had blacked out. He ended up in hospital on a respirator for 6 weeks and sickness benefits for life after that due to the damage to his lungs.


Inhaling the dusts and fumes associated with a long boat building process should be vigorously avoided. Many/most fine dusts get caught up in the lymphatic system around the lungs and stay around for a long time causing problems like silicosis and cancers. Inhaled fumes (evaporated solvents) cross into the bloodstream unhindered and from there go to every organ of your body which can in turn cause liver and bladder injuries and cancers among other things. Liver toxicity from inhaled solvents is well known. The skin allergy to epoxy has been pretty well described here. Fascinating accounts. It is a well known phenomenon in allergy medicine that a person can have repeated exposures to an allergen without triggering an immune response. Then one day, BANG, the immune system suddenly and forever has a
vigorous reaction to that allergen.


My brother warned me off of epoxy. About 4 years ago he wanted to build a kayak. It was stitched together with copper wire and then covered with epoxy. He had been working on it diligently for a while and then stopped dead, never to go back to it. He was working with epoxy and some how smeared a bit on his forehead when he wiped his face with his arm. As soon as he realized what happened, he went in and washed. You can still tell where the epoxy was. The skin is red and scaly. It comes and goes, stays red for days on end. He's lucky. He had no clue that he should be wearing a respirator.


I'm heavily allergic to epoxy and it developed slowly over time. At first it started out as a mild annoyance, but over time my symptoms became more severe.

It eventually got to the extent that I didn’t even have to come into contact with epoxy, simply the fumes were enough to make me break out, despite having a full body suit, latex and rubber gloves and a breathing apparatus,

After two straight trips to the emergency room and being on an intravenous bag and a prescription of prednisone, steroids and antihistamines my doctor told me this: "You may eventually react to this so strongly that your lungs may fill up with liquid and/or your immune system may shut down". That was enough for me.

As a prelude, I haven’t been in contact with epoxy in almost 3 years, but three weeks ago I moved a one gallon bucket of it from its storage space in my garage to another location. I grabbed the handle of the bucket and even this small 20 second interaction was enough to make me break out in a small rash.


I think I am going to have to shut down my store for I have been having a severe allergic reaction to the epoxy resin that I use. I have had my eyelids burnt badly to the point they almost swell shut, split open, and then ooze liquid from the eyelids. I wear protective goggles, I am ventilated, and also wear a respirator. I have used the resin for a year now and just recently have had severe reaction to the resin. I even now have rash on my fingers that itches and resembles poison ivy but I know it is from the resin. I have tried dg3 gel, 3d lacquer, and diamond glaze. I am not happy with the outcome of any of these items. If anyone can suggest another non toxic resin I can use can you please let me know?


The dust from carbon fiber work is extremely dangerous. When inhaled, it impales itself to the workings of your lungs, preventing the normal cleansing action, that phlegm and coughing it up would normally help eliminate it.

You are actually in more danger from clean up than use of epoxies, from the standpoint of:
When cleaning up with out gloves on, or even after you remove them. The process of cleaning your hands with a solvent to remove residue, actually thins the epoxy and allows it to more easily penetrate your skin. You should always immediately wash your hands with a strong detergent and water, to stop this process and remove all residue.

If your doing major epoxy work on large projects, over extended periods of time, you can further protect your skin by applying some lanolin skin cream or baby oil, to act as a barrier before starting. THIS WILL NOT WORK WITH LATEX GLOVES! However on most projects that we do, your exposure is not that great.

I have suffered from reactions to epoxy to the extreme, when I did my L-3 project, it had 6 fins and huge amounts of epoxy. [a 6in Ultimate Utimate Endeavor.]
Not really thinking and knowing better, I went ahead without any protection in a small unventilated work area. On the third day, my arms neck and face, basically all exposed areas, that clothing did not cover, broke out in a horrible rash. I looked like I'd been bitten by fire ants. It was painful, itched worse than anything, and after all the stares, pointing, and people avoiding me by keeping their distance at the grocery store, I stayed inside for the 2 weeks it took to heal.

I had worked around this stuff all my life, and it never bother me. The doctor said it can be caused by a cumulative effect. Your body reaches a point of no tolerance after repeated exposure. This can be immediate, weeks, months, or years, depending on your make up. For some it will never happen.


In general, the amines are causing most trouble. Try and source an epoxy that is known to be more friendly to people, if you are concerned.

Avoid all contact with epoxy. Use protective clothing if things might get messy, and ALWAYS use gloves. The only suitable gloves for epoxy are nitrile gloves, which usually are twice the cost of latex gloves. (what is the price of your health?). Latex or vinyl gloves are not suitable. For large projects, you could get some neoprene gloves as well. These are thicker, thus stronger.

If you spill epoxy on your skin, immediately wash with plenty of water and soap, or vinegar. DO NOT USE SOLVENTS to wash your skin. This will immediately transfer the material into your skin and bloodstream. You can test this with the "onion test". Cut an onion in half, and place the cut side on top of your hand. What do you taste? Nothing. Now do the same, but first wet the top of your hand with acetone. What do you taste? Onion...

Try and ventilate. Most more friendly epoxy resins do not fume (much) but no-one got killed because of some fresh air.

Oh, and rules, regulations and law do not replace common sense...


I thought I was being careful w/epoxy but in the end I discovered I was not careful enough. I used nitrile gloves and wore reg blue jeans and tennis (rubber) shoes. Occaisionally I would drip a spot of epoxy on my jeans and did not notice so the glue hardened into the jeans cloth. After working with it for a year I had to fair out my hull and being in a hurry, I applied epoxy one day and sanded it down the next w/o wearing a dust mask. I believe this is what done me in. My whole body broke out in a severe red rash very similar to poison Ivy rash. The itch was unbearable. I stayed away from epoxy for 2 weeks and the rash went away. After that I was much more careful working with the stuff. I wore a haz-mat suit along with my nitrile gloves but no respirator. There are no fumes (zero) with West System epoxies. I waited for the full 2 weeks cure time before sanding epoxy and wore no dust mask. Fully cured epoxy is not toxic at all. I did not wear nitrile gloves when sanding. If I got any sanding dust on my hands, I washed it off w/soap & water witin 5 minutes. I have been working this way full time for 4 additional years with no futher episodes of toxic exposure. I have now completed my 50' sailing yacht and will be launching in approx 6 weeks. At the end of the day I would say do not fear epoxy; just respect it and it will leave you work in peace.


What a utter nonsense!

West is just a brand and delivers several completely different "tastes" of stuff. If you bath in any West hardener, be sure you will get a "positive" result after a while.

Wearing no dust mask while sanding shows that you are a complete idiot! Is the dust improving your weak health?
So, what are we learning from your elaborations?

Epoxy resin is completely harmless once cured. The majority of resins available to the homebuilder are relatively harmless even when you bath in it.
Almost all hardeners (curing agents) cause allergic reactions when one has a skin contact, avoid that by ALLL means.


1. Most people are not sensitive to epoxy.
2. Many will develop a sensitivity with time, for some it may be 20 years, some only a couple of exposures and the unlucky few will get hospitalised after a single exposure.
So before you commit to a project test your self.
3. It is not true that there are zero fumes with epoxies, only that there are no solvent fumes. A common mistake when trying to deal with high humidity is to work inside a plastic tent.
4. Fully cured epoxy is not toxic, but it is impossible to have 100% cure. Depending on the formulation, cure conditions and accuracy of proportioning the components you may only have 90 - 95% conversion rate. So when sanding there will always be some unreacted components in the dust.


1. Correct. The funny thing is that native African people (Negroides) usually are far more sensitive than Kaukasian people. We found that out in the epoxy flooring industry. It was hard to keep Negroide people, for the effect on their skin. (and no, this is not an attempt to discriminate)

3. Correct. It must be said that epoxy resins basicly designed for flooring develop much less fumes. It is not nice if a 10.000 m2 (100.000 sqft) fresh epoxy floor starts fuming...
Also the industry is cutting on nasty chemicals, like nonyl phenol.

4. True. Protect yourself at all times. Try and work with dust extraction at all times, and wear masks.

If you do not like masks, buy a full face mask with air supply. This keeps a fresh breeze over your face, so transpiration is less problematic as well. There are units for compressors, or with battery powered air pump with filters, which can be carried on your belt. You might look stupid, but in the end you are a winner.


For people that are not affected indeed it can be quite astonishing. Allergic reactions can do strange things to people.

I once had a dog that got killed by a single sting of a wasp. Normal reaction is a bit of pain, which decreases in the next 5 minutes. Not with the dog, that suffered severe internal bleeding from just the sting.
I know of a customer that is allergic to latex in such an extent that his skin starts bleeding as soon as he puts a latex glove on. Without even opening a can of epoxy or polyester... He was extremely happy when I gave him nitril gloves. I also now understand why he has 20 children...

As for polyesters: There actually have been more research on the effects of polyesters (mainly on styrene, which is what evaporates from polyester, usually some 5-9 percent by weight.) Although results of research programs is not completely clear, and some results are contradicting each other, styrene still is a product that cannot be totally cleared from causing cancer. It might only affect some people that somehow are more prone to this, but still, protection is your best option.

Personally I lose my smell when working with polyester. It takes at least 2 weeks before getting it back.

What can be done by the users:
-protect yourself. I have already told how, and every well thinking person already knew anyhow.

What can be done by employers:
-protect your workers. Educate them in using personal protection, and make it available. Ask your supplier to do a presentation on personal protection. I still have to come across a supplier that is NOT willing to do this.
-invest in the working space. Get good ventilation, install styrene suppresant spray units (a spray that bonds to styrene, making it harmless), invest in low styrene emitting materials (DCPD resins, LSE additives, AAP peroxides instead of MEKP), equipment (HVLP guns) or change to lower styrene emitting techniques (RTM, RTM Light, resin infusion).

What can be done by the industry:
The industry is not doing nothing. In contrary. Styrene content in polyester resins has gone down a lot the last decade. There are even some zero-styrene resins in the market (though at a cost).
Epoxy producers are slowly abandoning some harmful ingredients, like nonylphenol. Ask your supplier. I must admit that epoxy producers mostly produce for "non contact" processes in various industries. Therefore the pressure to do more for users is less, unfortunately. Still I have seen a lot of development on skipping many toxic materials, even if this meant that some very interesting curing agents got lost. (remember the good old days when DPTA curing agent, sometimes retarded by for instance Jeffamine D-230, gave a very low viscous mixture, which cured to a high Tg without postcure. DPTA is gone now...)

You might say that none of the suggestions I made is making a big difference. So true. But every step helps, and implementing as much suggestions as possible WILL make a difference.


I've developed a sensitivity to epoxy. I think it may be the Glen-L epoxy. I never had this issue with MAS or West. But I may have just become sensitized over the last year between the kayak and the Malahini. The Glen-L stuff definitely has a different smell than the others did. My eyes get very itchy and then my eyelids get kinda raw on the outside (probably from rubbing). Then of course the skin gets dry and scaly. I am basically finished but have a couple of little things to do. I'm going to get some goggles and keep wearing my respirator. Does anyone else have any issues like that?


its weird....i have only a very slight allergy to West System. If i use it several days in a row, even with long sleeves and gloves, i start to get hives on my arms. Mostly, casual use ever few days or so causes nothing.


As many of you know I have become VERY sensitive to epoxy. Causes a poison ivy type rash on my hands that itch like crazy, eye lids crack and bleed, eyes blood shot and get big red blotches on my face. And all of this is with ZERO physical contact - for me it is just the fumes. And it does seem to be cumulative. The more often the exposure the worse the symptoms. If I haven't used any for several months I can get away with a small amount of usage. But is trying to use it on successive days it can get nasty if I don't take precautions.

So here is do I do -

I had a conversation with my doctor and asked him to prescribe “Flonase”. This is a nasal spray that is approved to treat the nasal symptoms of indoor and outdoor allergies. It was suggested by another builder with a similar problem and does seem to help. I also always wear a respirator with filter cartridges organic fumes.

But for me the most effective measure is fresh air - LOTS of fresh air. I bought a big fan on a stand that blows like a hurricane. When ever I am using epoxy it have it blasting me and helping blow the fumes away. Also, I have a 3' exhaust fan in my shop and when I epoxy it runs 24/7 for at least a week after.

When I do epoxy work I setup and do the job but then immediately exit the shop when done and don't return until the next day.

I have also find that the dust from sanding epoxy causes me problems - even months later. Because of that I don't use a power sander with out a shop vac attached. For me the little built-in dust bags don't get it as they usually allow to much to escape.

These methods may be extreme for many but are necessary for me. Doing the things above I was able to cover the exterior of my True Grit with epoxy but it was a challenge.

Also, keep in mind at first I wasn't allergic to epoxy and took few precautions but now pay for lack of respect of the stuff.


Again here I would like to mention MAS epoxy with their "LOW TOX'" hardener. It works for me. I know two woodworkers other than myself who have become sensitized, and believe me , when the body decides to, ( sometimes with little warning,) the reaction can and probably will be severe enough to require hospitalization.


I have seen workers who have developed contact dermatitis from working with certain chemical solvents like MEK and other organic solvents/compounds. There is considerable research on the topic of contact dermatitis from exposure to epoxy resins. Please be very careful working around both resins and dust.

In the chem plant where I worked, I saw workers who developed spontaneous eruptions of oozing skin ulcers that lasted for weeks. The ulcers could appear anywhere, not just where contact had once occurred. Once the chemical sensitivity happened, these workers could no longer perform their jobs ---- and couldn't even remain in the building where the chemicals were used. Just exposure to the fumes (no contact) was enough to initiate production of skin ulcers. Very nasty.

Dermatitis is a diagnosis that covers a wide range of symptoms and just means "inflamation of the skin." But the inflamation can take many forms, including red, itchy, patchy areas, flaking, blisters, ulcers (very nasty looking), etc. Because these symptoms are visible to others, they evoke a subconcious "avoid and do not approach or touch" response. Do not dismiss the threat lightly. I have seen people who live a degraded quality of life because their skin is constantly going "crazy" on them. Usually, an episode of dermatitis will heal over a period of days, especially when helped by treatment with topical steroids like betamethosone. But I have also known people whose dermatitis never goes away.

Please take care when working with these compounds. Do not assume that because you have worked with it for years that you will never develop a chemical sensitivity to it, and resultant expression of the allergic reaction as some form of dermatitis. For most of us, there is a threshold limit for total lifetime exposure that once breached can result in a lifetime of nastiness, as many of these compounds are present in everyday materials that offgas to some extent. Like herpes, once you've got it, you've got it for life.

Whenever I work with organic solvents/compounds where more than a few minutes of exposure to fumes or dust, or contact with the chemicals themselves is likely to occur, I use as appropriate a full face HEPA/carbon filter, full body tyvek overalls, and chemical resistant gloves. Having occasional episodes of dermatitis myself these days, I am VERY careful.


Epoxy IS dangerous and anyone that tells you otherwise is equally

I know professional boat builders who can no longer work because of the
effects of working with epoxy, that includes "MAINSTREAM" not "Off
brand" products used in large commercial enterprises not back room projects.

Check out West's own safety guidelines


The effects of epoxy are cumulative and someone can appear to be immune
or unaffected for a considerable period of time. This does not mean that
there are no long term effects that can be devastating. Anyone using any
chemicals should take the necessary precautions, that may mean being
masked and completely suited up where appropriate.

The finished product may not be toxic but the process should be taken
very seriously.

This is not condemn the use of epoxy which is fantastic material. As is
polyester and vinylester (which is in fact a combination of polyester
and epoxy). All such materials have potential risks for the user.

Please don't give a false impression to those less informed that there
are no health risks with epoxy.


The old "I've used it for years and it never hurt me" is a cliche for a reason. I've heard it so many times over the years, from issues regarding PCB's (from a friend whose face and arms were covered with melanoma removal scars--one of which eventually killed him), to owner-operator truckers driving 12-hr shifts--until they wrecked their rigs and became uninsurable, to non-union carpenters swinging "illegally" large hammers--then "retiring" at 35 or 40 due to debilitating arthritis. I worked a few years for a defense contractor who used a lot of epoxy for potting circuitry. The firm was known for hiring minorities--and not looking too closely at their papers. Less known was that they also routinely laid them off when they became sensitized to epoxy. I called a boss on it, who had the chutzpah to say, "Hey, they'll never work with epoxy after they go home, so will never have symptoms."

Epoxy is very dangerous--as is its dust (due to un-catalyzed bits of both resin and hardener encapsulated in the matrix, on amateur mixes). It is (almost) always over-kill for an amateur-built boat, which was Derek's primary point, after all. The idea of building a plywood boat--to save on materials cost--and then covering it in expensive epoxy is an oxy-moron of the highest order when you think about it (though I've built half a dozen myself!) You'd have been so much better off building in glass/foam, by most any metric available--engineered strength, weight, cost, labor, safety--and resale value. Designing your entire work product--and all the decades-long downstream ramifications of that choice, based on a few hours--even a few tens of hours--of objectionable odors seems distinctly like mis-placed priorities to me--but that's only my opinion.

If smell is an issue for you there are multiple solutions--from moving your shop to the hinterlands, to working solely with infusion (cool skill to add to your toolbox!), to building a paint booth-like filter system--to using epoxy. Life is a series of compromises and choices; this isn't a black and white issue.


As far as I am aware cancer is not the problem – it is skin allergies

Some are un affected, some like me are partially affected and others are massively affected

You can’t predict… I have seem colleagues totally unaffected then start with an itch then end up with crusting open sores from exposure

It would seem fast set hardeners are more allergenic than slow – and as many of you guys work in warm climates, I guess you use slow hardeners, here in damp cold UK… fast is common.

Just reads the safety info on the labels – it makes sense to be careful


I would like to provide my own experience over the last 20 years, in case it
helps others.

My first big exposure to epoxy was a kit built motor glider with foam core
wings. The specified epoxy was what Rutan used and it was American made and
called Safety Poxy I think. It was supposed to be more healthy than others.
This proved far from the truth in that halfway though the 1500 hour project,
I began getting blisters on my hands. I tried rubber gloves, cotton gloves,
cotton inside rubber gloves, but to no avail. Sweat inside the gloves would
worsen the problem. The symptoms were hot and itchy hands, mostly in the
areas where the epoxy had been most concentrated. I would wake up in the
middle of the night with my hands on fire. I managed to finish the project,
but thought that my days of epoxy work were over. I had heard of laminators
in the other industries having to find other careers after becoming

After a few years, I started repairing gliders, using German aircraft
certified resins (can't remember the type now). The only precaution that I
took was to use a barrier cream from Aircraft Spruce called Invisible
Gloves. The allergy problems never occurred again. I was told that it was
the amines in the hardener that caused the problem and that the new resins
were improved in this respect. I also was told that ordinary rubber gloves
was no barrier for amine molecules.

Over the last 15 years, all I have used is a water soluble barrier cream.
Wearing rubber gloves is awkward in tricky jobs. I have never had an
allergy problem since, even with my latest big project, a hand laid up
Farrier F22. I probably work cleaner now, but after a 4 hour layup I always
did get resin all over my hands eventually and was never itchy afterwards.

When sanding, I am more worried about the glass fibre dust than anything
else. So in my experience, a barrier cream is a must, plus good ventilation
to dissipate the fumes on long large layups.

So try using a barrier cream if your hands are attacked


Once you have epoxy on your gloves, you WILL have an itch on your nose, your eyes WILL need to be rubbed, and you WILL begin to sweat and need to wipe your brow.

More about safety and epoxy here.


Positive note: one can get old with epoxy

On Saturday, August 22nd 2009, about 350 Colleagues, Friends and Family of Gougeon Brother’s WEST SYSTEM / PRO SET Epoxy gathered on the grounds of the original boat shop to celebrate the 40 year anniversary of the company’s inception. In the story below Meade reflects back on history of WEST SYSTEM Epoxy:

Then - Building Golden Daisy, 2 Ton IOR 1975 Canada’s Cup Winner. (TOP L – R: Jim Gardiner, Tom Taylor, Meade Gougeon, Craig Blackwell) (FRONT L – R: Joel Gougeon, Jan Gougeon, Norm Baker, J.R. Watson)

Our early years of trial and error in boat construction planted the seeds for the eventual development of WEST SYSTEM Epoxy products and the knowledge base for using them properly.

It began after World War II when boats were hard to come by. My brothers and I were growing up on Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay, and took to building our own boats. Our first attempts were crude and leaky but we progressed to better fitting parts held together with bronze Anchorfast™ nails and Weldwood™ glue. Later, some of the newer resorcinol adhesives offered better gap filling properties that improved overall bonding capability, but we still had to rely on fasteners to hold together our structural components.

A new epoxy technology came to our attention in the late Fifties to early Sixties. Detroit’s automotive patternmakers were switching from resorcinol glues to epoxy adhesives to laminate pattern stock because the epoxy required less clamping pressure. One pattern maker, Victor Carpenter, became enam­ored with this new bonding potential and used it to build a small sailboat. His project turned out so well that he gave up patternmaking and became the first professional boat builder to use epoxy, along with traditional fasteners, to assemble wooden boats. In 1959 at the age of 14, my youngest brother, Jan, began working for Vic after school and on weekends. He helped Vic build several boats including an S&S 37 keelboat. The things Jan learned from Vic at an early age provided a significant boost to our later work in boat construction and epoxy development.

After graduating from college in 1960, I moved to Kansas City and began making a living as an industrial salesman. I lined up a local source of epoxy, then designed and built a Sunfish-type 14' sailboat. My goal was to eliminate the use of fasteners. The results were disappointing; several of the bonded joints failed. The problem was an inappro­priate epoxy product compounded by lack of experience. But even then, the revolutionary potential of epoxy technology was clear. Over the next several years Jan and I would work hard to learn as much as possible about epoxy-bonded joinery. Our goal was to eliminate fasteners in wooden boat construction.

Wooden boat building was on its way out in the early Sixties, replaced by newer fiberglass reinforced resin technology. Over thousands of years, wooden boat building had evolved to become totally reliant on fasteners to hold together the parts and pieces that form a boat. The problem with this traditional method is that even the best designed joints can transfer only 25% of wood’s ultimate strength. To accommodate joint inefficiency, wooden boats of the past were heavier than necessary. Wood’s real potential became evident during World War II when hot-molded laminate made with veneer and resorcinol glues under high pressures proved stronger than metal. A good example of this is the all wood deHavilland Mosquito bomber—still one of the lightest airplanes ever built for its horsepower rating. It has long been known wood can be a superior engineering material if the joint problem can be overcome. The only problem with building the Mosquito bomber was the need to bond it all to­gether with a minimum clamping pressure of 125 psi. This was done at a huge cost both for tooling and labor, which could be afforded only during wartime when metals for building planes were in short supply. When it became apparent epoxy had the po­tential to eliminate this burdensome require­ment of massive clamping pressure, it seemed possible to completely bond large wooden structures efficiently and at a low cost. The prospect challenged our imagina­tions and led us down a path of trial and er­ror over the next ten years, culminating in the building of the trimaran Adagio.

Launched in 1970, Adagio was the first large, all epoxy bonded and sealed wooden boat built without the use of fasteners. Jan and I built her in just six months. This summer, Adagio begins her 40th season and will again be a serious contender in the Great Lakes Mackinac regattas. More importantly, she has withstood the test of time. Adagio is proof that fully bonded, wooden monocoque structures can be built within cost and time constraints and last for generations

The trial-and-error projects leading up to Adagio included a series of five racing trimarans and numerous DN iceboats. Our goal for each of these projects was to build the lightest structures possible. We wanted to produce race-winning boats. Our emerging wood/epoxy technology quickly developed an advantage over the best fiberglass technol­ogy of that time. By continuously pressing the edge of material performance, we learned from both success and failure, con­tributing to our knowledge base.

The DN iceboat, with its highly loaded compo­nents continually operating at strain rates just short of failure, proved to be an excellent test bed. Many broken masts and runner planks put us on a fast-track learning path to understand what was possible and what was practical in wood/epoxy composite construction.

In 1969, with this crucial knowledge in hand, we began building DNs as our first product and would sell more than 200 iceboats over the next five years.

The epoxy system we were using worked well as an adhesive, but was difficult to apply as a coating. Where we really got lucky in our quest for epoxy technology was to be lo­cated 17 miles east of Dow Chemical Company’s world headquarters. Dow and Shell chemical companies were the major base-ep­oxy suppliers in the US, having imported the technology from Germany in the mid 1950s. The material was used mainly to replace the tin in cans, and act as a protective undercoat to metal surfaces. It created a tightly cross-linked coating resistant to water and moisture vapor.

Herbert Dow, grandson of the Dow Chemi­cal Company's founder, was an avid sailor who we introduced to ice boating. After see­ing what we were up to, Herb made it possi­ble for us to work with several chemists in Dow’s epoxy lab to help us develop epoxy resin and hardener products we could use as both an adhesive and a coating.

We were now seriously into both bonding and sealing wood with epoxy. Our goal was to solve one of wood’s most difficult prob­lems: its tendency to absorb moisture and swell. It was well known in the industry that epoxy-based technology had the potential to create a formidable moisture barrier. With Dow’s help, we developed the formulations that became the basis of the WEST SYSTEM group of products we introduced in 1971.

In that year, my brother Joel returned from Vietnam having flown 131 combat missions. At the time, word was traveling as to what we were doing in our shop. Other boat builders were coming around asking questions and wanting to buy some of the epoxy resin and hardeners we were formulating for our own use. We were flattered, but with the frequent interruptions it was becoming in­creasingly difficult to get our boats built. Joel had saved some money during his four years in the air force, and arrived at exactly the right time to invest in our fledgling business and help start a new business venture selling our epoxy. Another family member, my brother-in-law Grant Urband, who had just moved his family back to Bay City from Cali­fornia, also joined our new enterprise.

We worked hard those first months, setting up production facilities and developing packaging and labels. But looking back, this was actually the easy part. Far more difficult was adequately educating our new customers on the proper metering, mixing and applying of the various components of the new WEST SYSTEM product line. Having worked with epoxy over the previous 10 years, we’d mistakenly assumed it would be as easy for the average customer to understand as it was for us. Instead, we found ourselves spending a good portion of our time on the phone explaining how to use the products, or providing tours of our shop to visitors who wanted to see with their own eyes this revolutionary approach to using wood as engineering material. To keep our boat building obligations on track, we hired J.R. Watson, Jim Derck and Craig Blackwell. Later Jim Gardiner and Robert Monroe came aboard. J.R. and Jim are still with us as technical advisors; Robert is our president and CEO.

In 1972, we introduced the first WEST SYSTEM Technical Manual to help our cus­tomers understand our products, which were like none other on the market. We expanded the manual over the next several years, focusing on answers to question our customers commonly asked. We later published other, more project-specific manuals including Wooden Boat Restoration & Repair and Fiberglass Boat Repair and Maintenance. We also wrote The Gougeon Brothers on Boat Construction, a definitive work on cold-molded construction with wood and WEST SYSTEM materials, now in its fifth edition. The key to our customers’ success with these products was a dedicated technical staff offering one-on-one support by phone, mail and in person, combined with our growing library of informative publications. Satisfied customers made the WEST SYSTEM part of our business grow steadily over the years. Our technical support model is similar today but with the added modern conveniences of email, the internet and of course our new website featuring instructional videos and PDFs of all of our manuals.

Now.....(TOP L – R: Jan Gougeon, Meade Gougeon, Craig Blackwell) (FRONT L – R: Joel Gougeon,Norm Baker, J.R. Watson)

The growing demands of our epoxy business made it difficult to continue our one-off and production boat building operations. We discontinued building boats in 1993, but the boat shop we began in long ago is still in operation. Jan and I have come full circle. I like to think we “successed” our way back to the boat shop, where we build our own boats for the pleasure of it and are still discovering new things about processes and materials. Jan is finishing up a 40' trailerable, self-righting catamaran he hopes to launch this sum­mer. I have been playing with small boats, mostly sailing canoes. And of course we both are still into iceboats, which is our first love. We supposedly are retired, but I think we are still doing research and development, just as we did in the years leading up to the introduction of WEST SYSTEM products.

Source: Sailing Anarchy




Thanks all who have taken the effort to share their experience ! 

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