Your laundry liquid or washing powder is full of all sorts of chemicals, but without a full ingredients list how can you tell what’s responsible for your flare-ups?
Let’s have a closer look at what’s in the detergent and how you can avoid laundry-based triggers.
What’s in your detergent?
The basic components of laundry detergent are:
- optical brighteners
What do they do?
Surfactants loosen particles from material by bonding with oils and dirt, and allow them to be carried away with the washing water. They often contain soaps and can be either petrochemical-derived or plant-based.
Because surfactants are detergents which remove grease, they are not good for eczema-prone skin which is already susceptible to losing vital natural oils.
Enzymes are added to washing powders to break down the proteins, starches and carbohydrates that stain clothes, such as grass, oil, creams etc. and are generally considered to be best avoided by those with eczema as they can be irritating. But they might not be as problematic for eczema as once thought; it’s worth testing out a eco-friendly biological powder to see if your particular skin reacts badly to enzymes, as they're very useful for getting emollient stains out of clothes!
Bleach is there to break up larger particles and kill microbes. If you’ve got eczema, it’s really important that clothes are kept really clean and free from the moulds and bacteria which can cause infection, so bleaches are really useful additions to detergent, plus they’re easily broken down by water and air so don’t get left in fabric. They can still cause irritation, though.
Builders soften water, increase the efficiency of the surfactants and lower the ph level of the water. They’re very necessary in hard water areas but are generally easily rinsed away.
The ingredients that are meant to stay in your clothes after washing - ie the optical brighteners and fragrances rather than the ones that actually do the cleaning - are usually what cause problems as far as eczema flare-ups go. These don’t do anything to make clothes cleaner, they just make the laundry look and smell nicer, which might not be as important as avoiding itchy skin!
How to reduce the risk of skin irritation:
- Put laundry through an extra wash-and-rinse cycle without product at the end of a wash
- Check ingredients for gentler, plant-based surfactants
- Choose unfragranced brands
- Test different liquids and powders for at least week at a time, including biological versions, to see what works for your own particular skin
- In eczema-triggering hard water areas, add extra ‘builder’ to your wash – a tablespoon or two of washing soda crystals- rather than using more detergent
- Choose eco-friendly brands which usually leave out brighteners & synthetic fragrances
- Air-dry whenever possible, to make clothes smell fresh and to make use of the antimicrobial and anti-staining effect of sunlight!
- ...but not in high pollen count times! Laundry can trap pollen and transfer it to your skin, causing irritation.
- Reduce the amount of powder you use by half for standard washes
- Add laundry bleach to whites washes to rid clothes or bed sheets of microbes
- Try non-detergent alternatives such as eco-balls or soap nuts for most washes; you can add the bleach and soda to whites washes if necessary
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.