A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Photocopy residue seems to take the skin off my fingertips. Is it toxic?

July 14, 1999

Dear Straight Dope:

Xerox copy residue seems to eat the skin off my finger tips when I handle a lot of copies regularly. Is it toxic?

I wrote to Xerox about this through their site at www.xerox.com and got this response:

"We won't go into an explanation of how a Xerox copier works but, in general, a powdered "toner" is heat bonded onto the paper. In the past, toner was made from carbon. However, today most toner is made of very small particles of a black plastic material. A particle of toner has an irregular shape and would look like a grain of sand under a microscope.

"As you know, sand may feel smooth but it can also be very abrasive (sandpaper for example). It's the same with toner. Although it feels like a powder it can be abrasive. If it gets on your fingers and you then rub something, it's similar to rubbing your fingers on a very fine sandpaper. This is probably why it takes the skin off your finger tips.

"We suggest that when you get toner on your hands, you wash it off before you start handling anything. This should prevent the toner from rubbing off the skin."

And here you thought "working your fingers to the bone" was just a figure of speech.

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