There are many different articles that are made using leather and hides or artificial leather, such as belts, bags, gloves, shoes, watch bands and covers for mobile phones. Articles that consist of these materials may contain substances which, for example, may cause allergic reactions and eczema.

Substances used in the preparation of leather can be harmful, mainly to the person performing the work, but some substances may remain in the article and can potentially harm the person using the finished article as well. Some of these substances can also affect health and the environment over the long term.

Chromium is used to soften leather

Leather and hides are tanned to make the material softer and more durable. In traditional tanning, trivalent chromium is used. If the tanning has been done incorrectly, the trivalent chromium can be converted to hexavalent chromium, which is the form that can be harmful. Hexavalent chromium can cause allergic reactions and is also hazardous for the environment. It can also cause cancer, especially if you inhale the substance in connection with tanning. There are therefore regulations within the EU that limit the amount of hexavalent chromium that may be present in leather products.

There are also tanning methods that are completely free from the use of chromium, for example, so-called vegetable tanning.

Read more about chromium

Harmful metals

In addition to chromium, hides, leather, artificial leather and metal details on, for example watch bands, bags and belts, can contain other harmful metals such as cadmium, lead and nickel. There are regulations for how much cadmium and lead may be present in different types of articles because these substances are harmful to both health and the environment. Nickel can cause allergic reactions on contact with the skin (contact dermatitis) and there are regulations for how much nickel the products are allowed to release.

Read more about cadmium

Read more about lead

Read more about nickel

Harmful plasticisers

Artificial leather is a type of plastic material. Many plastics can contain plasticisers, so-called phthalates. Some phthalates are harmful and are therefore restricted under EU law. This means that they must not be found in articles above a certain concentration limit.

Another type of plasticiser or lubricant that can be present in both leather products and artificial leather is chlorinated paraffin. Some chlorinated paraffins are very toxic to aquatic plants and animals. Chlorinated paraffins are difficult to break down and therefore remain in the environment for a long time. Short-chain chlorinated paraffins, which are the most harmful type, are restricted under EU legislation. This means that they must not be found in the articles above certain concentration limits.

Read more about plastic

Keep this in mind when shopping

  • If you are allergic to chromium or nickel, it is extra important that you are careful when you choose a product.
  • The company you buy the article from is responsible for making sure that the article is safe to use and that it does not contain any prohibited substances. When you are in the store, ask where the article is made and what the article contains so that you can make an informed choice.
  • You have the right to know if a product contains substances that are on the EU list of especially hazardous substances. That list is called the Candidate List. Read more about your right to information about especially hazardous substances.
  • Be aware of where articles come from when you shop online. If you buy articles directly from a company outside the EU, it can be difficult to get information about the product’s content. In the worst case scenario, the article can contain substances that are banned in the EU. Read more about safe shopping on the web.
Last published 13 October 2021