With every decade that passes, we are being exposed to more and more products with broad ingredients lists and high concentrations of active chemical substances. It's no wonder that personal care products, from skincare cosmetics to everyday deodorants, tend to impact the health of our skin, making us more prone to allergies.
What about non-personal care products such as laundry detergents, home cleaning products, fabrics and other items in our homes? Do they impact the health of our skin? Unfortunately, yes!
Although we don't use these products directly on the skin, they can still leave residues or release aerosols that act as irritants or allergens. When these small particles touch the skin, they can cause dermatitis, which evolves with mild to even serious irritations or allergic reactions.
Irritants and allergens are a bit different in terms of way of action and caused skin lesions:
This category includes high concentration ingredients or harsh products that alter skin pH and cause local chemical reactions or irritations. Dermal lesions may consist of redness, dry and itchy skin, flaking, or chemical burns.
Skin irritation caused by these products usually occurs in the first 24 hours after the use of the products. In most cases, skin lesions are limited to the area that came in direct contact with the product.
In the case of allergens, dermatitis appears as a response of the immune system that recognizes specific compounds as threats. Allergies are more severe and can be caused by various ingredients in the products, regardless of the concentration. Most frequent allergens include fragrance, preservatives, soaps, metals, alcohols and chemical compounds.
Symptoms occur in the first 24 to even 48 hours after the use of the product and may include skin redness, itching sensation and flaking of the skin. Severe cases can display secondary infections or blistering of the affected areas.
The most frequent non-personal care products that cause irritation and allergies:
Detergents and fabric softeners
Most detergents, fabric softeners, stain removing and bleaching solutions contain a broad range of chemicals. Because the ingredient lists for most of these products are extensive, it is often difficult to figure out what is the irritant or allergen that triggered the reaction.
If you have sensitive skin, then hypoallergenic products might be a good option for you. Carefully read the ingredients list, especially if you know yourself to be allergic to a specific chemical.
Fragrances and dyes are among the most blamed allergens and irritants in detergents and softeners. Unfortunately, these compounds are often not clearly displayed among the ingredients. Heavily scented or dyed cloth washing supplies are more likely to trigger a skin reaction, so it might be better to keep away from these items.
Gelling agents/ viscosity enhancers and fragrances (Phthalates) are added in the vast majority of liquid detergents and softeners. Although added in small amounts, these compounds were demonstrated to cause severe skin irritation, especially in people with sensitive skin.
Unfortunately, companies are not always required to display all ingredients on the list. Choosing not to reveal all components is either because the quantities are under a specific limit that requires mentioning, or companies want to keep their recipes a secret.
High concentrations of active ingredients act as irritants and may cause mild to even severe chemical burns if they get in direct contact with the skin. Sprays or other types of solutions that release aerosols can also irritate.
If you suffer from sensitive skin or any allergies, wear a face mask, gloves and cotton clothing that fully covers your skin during home cleaning activities.
Antimicrobial agents (Triclosan, Quarternary Ammonium Compounds) are added in most home cleaning supplies and can trigger skin lesions and even respiratory disorders.
As in the case of detergents and fabric softeners, cleaning items can also contain gelling agents and fragrances.
Fabrics used in bed linens or detergents used for washing can trigger important skin issues. You can easily prevent these unwanted skin reactions by washing all bed linens at least once a week with hot water and fragrance-free hypoallergenic detergents.
Organic cotton is the fabric of choice for bed linens as it is tolerated well even by persons with sensitive skin. Natural, high-quality wool is also considered a hypoallergenic material. However, not all people can tolerate wool.
Pillows and mattresses
Many irritants can hide in fibers of pillows and mattresses. Dust mites are some of the most blamed allergens, and they feed and thrive on dead skin cells on our bodies. Dust and dust mites can trigger generalized skin redness, blemishes, and even respiratory issues.
To prevent irritation caused by allergens released from your mattress and pillow, you can use a special protective cover that blocks allergens and parasites from passing through. For the covers to be effective, they need to close completely with a zipper and fully encase the mattress or pillow.
Although it might sound weird, water too can irritate the skin. For example, a highly chlorinated swimming pool or even tap water can cause rashes, skin dryness, or flaking. Usually, chlorine allergy does not occur immediately, and, in most cases, the onset takes place after long term exposure.
While swimming is an excellent form of physical activity, you might want to take a break from it if you develop any irritation.
Essential oils and other plant-based products
Some plant extracts and other natural ingredients can cause skin irritation and allergies. Essential oils, in particular, contain a series of compounds that disrupt the dermal barrier and enhance their absorption into the skin. High concentration essential oils may even have a toxic effect.
Highly diluted products might be the best option if you like to use essential oils for any purpose.
What should I do if I develop skin allergy or irritation?
Request a specialized consultation as soon as possible if you experience severe or aggravating symptoms. Mild symptoms can also necessitate a certified opinion if they persist;
Discontinue the use of the suspected triggering product. If you are not sure what the trigger was, then you might want to stop using all new products, at least for a while. After the resolution of the clinical signs, if you wish, you can gradually reintroduce each product and increase the chances of identifying the triggering item;
Eliminate the triggering products from your home completely. Also, when buying other products, read the ingredient list to make sure that they do not contain the compounds that previously caused irritation or allergies;
Take notes on the products that you use and skin changes that you experience. It is always helpful to write down all the information about the brand, ingredient list and time lapsed from the use of the product until the appearance of the irritation;
Please take pictures of the affected areas in case you need to show them to your doctor. Skin lesions can change rapidly, and by the time you reach your doctor, they may look completely different, or they may even disappear. Pictures with the evolution of skin irritation can be helpful in terms of diagnosis and prescribed treatment;
Apply a topical treatment based on calming and hydrating lotions or even medicated ointments, but only if prescribed by your doctor;
Oral medication is also possible in cases where the skin lesions are severe, or they tend to aggravate. Specialized treatment needs to be prescribed by your general practitioner or dermatologist.
Other measures to care for skin irritation caused by non-personal care products:
Skin hydration is essential
Depending on the affected area, you can use moisturizing lotions or serums that can reestablish the lipid barrier and can aid with skin structure repairment.
Use minimal skincare and ingredients that are free from potential irritants or allergens
Natural and fragrance-free products are often the healthiest choice. Here too, you might want to double-check if the brand displays all the ingredients and that there are no false claims on the product.
Staying on the safe side can be rather tricky with all the items found on the market. Natural brands that use a limited number of ingredients can be the most reliable choice to prevent skin irritation and allergies.
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