Do You Have an Allergy To Pottery Clay?

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More often than not, I have been asked about allergies caused by pottery clay. Although I am not a doctor or a health professional with my peerless experience in pottery, there are a few facts about pottery and the allergies it can cause. Research has shown that people can have mold reactions to clay, especially the ones with mold in it. I have heard about several professional potters and apprentices who have had allergic reactions to clay. Usually for you to be allergic to clay, there has to be visible mold—the kind gets when a bag of moist clay has been hanging around for a fair amount of time.

When the mold begins to grow in the bag or bucket it causes discolorations which can make you develop rashes and other skin reactions. You can spray the outer surface of the clay with bleach water (1/4 cup per gallon of water up to 1 part bleach to 9 parts water) to kill the surface mold. Usually, the mold won’t have grown down into the clay too much.


The only common skin disease in the pottery industry is eczematous dermatitis. Low-grade dermatitis, not necessitating absence from work, affects a lot of potters and other pottery specialists. In perhaps only 1% is the condition severe enough to cause significant absence from work and the potter financial problems. Mostly the problem is that of a cumulative irritant dermatitis associated particularly with wet work. Such a pattern is more common in patients with a history of childhood eczema.

Eczematous dermatitis is a common condition that can interfere with social function, sleep, and employment. Although there is no legitimate proof that clay causes Eczematous, a few health professionals have attested that clay or clay molds can lead to itching, red sores, and profuse sweating. Its persistence and accompanying pruritus may be stressful and frustrating for patients.

Eczematous Dermatitis Dry skin, Sneezing, Itching, Red rash

According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, the most common and best-characterized type of eczema, atopic dermatitis, appears to be increasing in incidence. Other common eczematous dermatoses, particularly allergic dermatitis, and irritant contact dermatitis, must be accurately diagnosed since improvement and resolution rely on appropriate diagnosis and avoidance of pertinent triggering factors. Principles of treatment include general skincare, patient education about avoidance of irritants, skin hydration, and the use of topical corticosteroids when necessary. The use of systemic corticosteroids is not generally recommended for the treatment of chronic eczematous dermatitis.

A few reports have concluded that pottery clay can cause allergic contact dermatitis because of the presence of cobalt, which is a top allergen. The biggest risk is to people who handle and form the raw materials (in Management of Positive Patch Test Reactions, for example, the recommendation is to avoid “wet alkaline clay containing cobalt.”) As well, keep in mind that an allergy to cobalt frequently means a nickel allergy. Fired, dried, and finished clay pots and products, however, should be fine, unless the finish itself contains an allergen.

If you have a history of sensitive skin, don’t guess: random trial and error can cause more damage. Ask your dermatologist about a patch test.


  • A red rash or red patches of skin, especially inside the folds of the elbows and knees
  • Itching
  • Dry skin, which can crack and possibly bleed
  • Sneezing and an itchy, runny, or blocked nose
  • Wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and a cough
  • Swollen lips, tongue, eyes, or face

The symptoms vary depending on how you come into contact with the clay. You may have a runny nose if exposed to a mold of clay and probably develop a rash if you have a skin allergy to the clay.

The location of eczema may change with age. In infants and young children, eczema is usually located on the cheeks, outside of the elbows, and on the knees. In older children and adults, eczema is typically on the hands and feet, the arms, and the back of the knees.

Symptoms can be painful, and cause skin coloring changes, and blisters. The itch associated with “clay eczema” can be very severe, and often interrupts sleep. Scratching of the skin may lead to an infection. Infants with eczematous dermatitis may rub against bedding or other things to relieve the itch.


People diagnosed with eczematous dermatitis can manage the condition with the guidance of an allergist. In cases of moderate or severe eczema, an allergist may recommend prescription medication, including topical steroids and/or antihistamines. Milder cases may be treated with ointments such as petroleum jelly, and moisturizers. Those should be applied daily, even when the skin appears clear, to help prevent dryness.

If you are diagnosed with eczema, you should avoid harsh cleansers, drink water often, wear gloves while working on pottery pieces, especially in cold weather, and avoid wearing materials such as wool, which could irritate the skin. Eczema can also be caused by foods, cosmetics, soaps, wool, dust mites, mold, pollen, dog or cat dander, dry climate, and other variables.

If your child is allergic to pottery clay and he/she comes in contact with it, you should bathe him immediately and immediately apply moisturizer after the bath. You should limit the use of pH-balanced skin cleansers after frequent bathing, along with gentle patting dry, and the immediate application of a moisturizer to “seal” in moisture. This technique is called “soak and smear” and can provide relief from the itching that comes with eczema.

Being allergic to potter clay is not common, research conducted in 2016 proved that about 100 out of 4,000 people are allergic to clay. The allergy is often caused by clay molds, but the other triggers are slop/reclaim buckets. Adding some bleach regularly helps to reduce clay molds. These allergies are in the form of Eczema and they are mostly found in young people (mostly infants). It can be treated by bathing and applying moisturizer often but if symptoms persist after 3 days, see your doctor.

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