The present work was undertaken to study in hairdressers exposed to several irritants and allergens (prevalently hair-dyeing) and affected by hand contact dermatitis the possible correlation between exposure and direct-oxidative DNA damage, production of tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha) and allergic inflammatory disease. We evaluated in 19 hairdressers with hand contact dermatitis, 14 allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) and 5 irritant contact dermatitis (ICD) and in a selected control group TNFalpha serum levels by ELISA and direct-oxidative DNA damage by Fpg (formamido-pyrimidine-glycosylase)-modified Comet test on blood. Hairdressers were divided on the basis of number of hair-dyeing carried out weekly into 2 groups: low-exposure (<60 hair-dyeing/week) and high-exposure hairdressers (>or=60 hair-dyeing/week) that reflect also the exposure to other allergens and irritants and 2 different tasks (hairdressers and apprentice hairdressers, respectively). Serum levels of TNFalpha in hairdressers with ACD were significantly higher than controls with a correlation to exposure level. Significant DNA damage in ICD hairdressers with higher exposure as compared to controls was found. These findings suggest that occupational exposure can induce in hairdressers, particularly ICD, DNA damage, increase the TNFa levels particularly in ACD and induce allergic sensitization, suggesting a relationship between direct-oxidative DNA damage, TNFalpha production and allergic inflammatory disease.