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Thread: Allergic to cedar?

  1. #1

    Question Allergic to cedar?

    I just finished an outdoor cedar bench/table. For a few days, I had a red rash on my hands and feet. I couldn't figure out what it was and the day after I finished the project, both of my palms started peeling. The only thing I can figure is that it's from the cedar (good thing I wore a respirator). Does anyone know if cedar can cause an allergic skin reaction?

  2. #2
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    Yes, cedar can be an irritant, according to the Toxicity chart on The Wood Database. The rash on the feet is kind of interesting. I can understand the hands having been in contact with the lumber. Were you by chance wearing open style footwear?
    Last edited by Brian Tymchak; 05-19-2021 at 8:41 AM.
    Brian

    "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger or more complicated...it takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." - E.F. Schumacher

  3. #3
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    What kind of cedar?

    I've turned a LOT of Eastern Red Cedar. Yes, it can be a skin irritant. Once I was sanding while wearing a watch on my wrist and developed a rash where fine sawdust was trapped under the watch. I've had no other problems but I do brush or blow off dust after working.

    If I found I was particularly sensitive to it I'd wash my skin after working with it. This is effective other things like poison ivy, at least for me. I read that ome people with a sensitivity to certain wood dust use a skin lotion before working.

    BTW, there is a way to test for allergic skin reactions to various wood species. Put a small amount of fine sawdust on a bandaid and apply it to the smooth skin on the inside of the forearm. If sensitive it will start to itch and develop a rash. Then you will know which woods to avoid or be careful with.

    JKJ

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by John K Jordan View Post
    BTW, there is a way to test for allergic skin reactions to various wood species. Put a small amount of fine sawdust on a bandaid and apply it to the smooth skin on the inside of the forearm. If sensitive it will start to itch and develop a rash. Then you will know which woods to avoid or be careful with.
    Thatís a good tip. Thanks!

    It would be interesting to see if there are some woods Iím not allergic to.

  5. #5
    I am allergic to Poplar (of all things). Since the rash was on my stomach area, wearing a shop apron at the table saw is a good idea.

    Also, throughly blowing off your clothes as well, taking a shower immediately after coming in.

  6. #6
    Excellent advice. Really appreciated. I was wearing gyms shoes so I'm not sure how the rash impacted other non-contact areas.

  7. #7
    There is a condition called Red Cedar Asthma which you can get from working with Cedar. I found this out because I came down with it 25 years ago after spending a week working with cedar, making window casings and other things. I started to wheeze when I breathed and had a rasp in my throat. After reading up on it, I found that it was not uncommon and could be quite dangerous. Faced with potentially having to give up woodworking, I got religion on dust management and purchased my first dust collector. Ever since then I have avoided working with Cedar and still get tightness in my throat and windpipe if I am around the sawdust.

    I suspect that I would get a rash too if I handled a lot of Cedar and Cedar saw dust, especially if I was sweaty at the time. I do get some rashes from the plants that I handle in spring. Tomatoes and marigolds can cause me to break out a little bit if I handle them for several hours. A couple decades ago I had to return a nice set of Pfeil chisels with unfinished handles. What ever wood they used caused my hands to break out.

    https://www.lni.wa.gov/safety-health...rnRedCedar.pdf

  8. #8
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    I'm under the care of a respirologist and one of the first things he asked me, when I told him I enjoyed woodworking, was "do you work with Cedar?"
    While the answer is not very often (garden gate or whatever) it did put me on high alert. I do have some cedar here which I'll be using in the garden for planters, but people have all sorts of issues with woods.
    Like Andrew, when my lung doc. started treating me, I also got religion and bought a new dust collection system which I'm plumbing in now.
    Young enough to remember doing it;
    Old enough to wish I could do it again.

  9. #9
    Holy Cow! I am so glad I asked - thanks for sharing. I do take extra precautions with pressure treated wood but had no idea about cedar. I guess the mask is going to be mandatory every time I step into the workshop.

  10. #10
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    Similar to my experience about 25 years ago Andrew, prompted me to get serious about dust collection.........Regards, Rod.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Bob WaltersJr View Post
    Holy Cow! I am so glad I asked - thanks for sharing. I do take extra precautions with pressure treated wood but had no idea about cedar. I guess the mask is going to be mandatory every time I step into the workshop.
    Yes, cedar, purple heart, cocobolo, ebony, rosewood (most tropical woods actually as well as some domestics) are on that list. Not surprisingly, they tend to be the rot resistant ones, since the extractives and oils that are bad for the bugs tend to also be toxic to humans. Many places used to put warning signs or stickers on those kinds of woods, since they tend to affect most people. Unfortunately now they put the same generic warning on all woods, so people don't tend to know which ones are the really bad ones.

    Myself, I typically refuse to work with tropical woods, for a combination of environmental, moral, and most importantly health reasons. Cedar I only use if there is no practical alternative, and even then only when it is worked and used outside and in limited quantities.

  12. #12
    in fact, allergies can occur to almost everything in the world, allergies to trees (and most likely to their pollen) are quite common. I have a friend who has an allergy to birch pollen. He is from Russia, and the pollen of this tree is the most common allergen in Siberia.
    "Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it."



  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob WaltersJr View Post
    Holy Cow! I am so glad I asked - thanks for sharing. I do take extra precautions with pressure treated wood but had no idea about cedar. I guess the mask is going to be mandatory every time I step into the workshop.
    (I wrote this yesterday and forgot to send it.)
    The respirstor is an excellent idea. Exposure to wood dust can make some people more and more sensitive. I know a guy who got so sensitive he had to give up working with wood completely. In fact, he couldn't even go into his shop even after if was emptied and professionally cleaned several times. He ended up having a new house built and moving. Took up metal working.

    Some of use a particulate counter to monitor the effectiveness of the dust collector and the amount of fine dust in the air:
    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004AWEG0Y

    JKJ

  14. #14
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    Thereís a postscript I think we should also recognize; breathing cedar is horrible and dust collection is basic, but an allergy can also be triggered by the dust setting on your body.
    Long sleeve shirts help the dust stay off your arms; a hat and maybe even goggles.
    Get tested.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Bob WaltersJr View Post
    Holy Cow! I am so glad I asked - thanks for sharing. I do take extra precautions with pressure treated wood but had no idea about cedar. I guess the mask is going to be mandatory every time I step into the workshop.
    One of the reasons cedar is favored is that even many insects are allergic to it.

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