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Sensitive Skin? Avoid These Ingredients!⚠️

Dec 07, 2023

Do you suffer from sensitive skin? Sensitive skin requires a little extra TLC, including being mindful of the ingredients in the products you use daily. Certain ingredients found in common household cleaning products to personal care items, can wreak havoc on sensitive skin, causing irritation and discomfort. 

Don't worry, though, we've got you! We're in the business of making cleaning safer. Today, we're bringing you a comprehensive guide to help you navigate the world of household cleaning and personal care products, a list of chemicals you should try and avoid, and a few alternative "safe" choices.

Approximately 60% of people worldwide have sensitive skin or reactive skin. A recent survey of household cleaning supplies indicated that many common ingredients, including preservatives, fragrances, solvents, and surfactants, are skin allergens or irritants. Many household cleaning products and personal care products can be harsh on the skin, causing irritation and contact dermatitis.

Two types of Contact Dermatitis:

Experts classify contact dermatitis as either allergic or irritant. Let's take a look into both;

Allergic contact dermatitis:

Female scratching red, itchy, allergy reaction on arm

Contact dermatitis caused by an allergy involves your immune system. When you touch something you are allergic to, your immune system reacts, springs into action, and makes antibodies to fight off the "body invader." When this chain of events happens, it causes the body to release chemicals, including histamine. That's what causes the allergic reaction.

In most cases, you may not get a rash the first time your skin touches something you are allergic to. But that touch sensitizes your skin, and you could react physically the next time.

Some common causes of allergic contact dermatitis include contact with:

  • Perfumes, fragrances, or chemicals in household cleaning products, cosmetics and skincare products
  • Air fresheners and fabric sprays
  • Certain deodorants
  • Certain laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and fabric dryer sheets
  • Bleach
  • Toilet and drain cleaners
  • Nail polish, hair dyes, and straighteners
  • Some materials and dyes found in fabrics, clothing, and furniture

Irritant dermatitis:

Red, itchy irritated hands Female with sensitive skin, red itchy patch on neck

Irritant dermatitis is the most common type of contact dermatitis. An allergy does not cause it, but rather the skin's reaction to irritating substances or friction. Some rashes look like an allergic reaction but aren't because your immune system wasn't involved, Instead, you touched something that removed the surface oils shielding your skin. The longer the substance stays on your skin, the worse the reaction. Irritating substances may include acids and alkaline materials such as soaps, shampoos, face cleansers, detergents, fabric softeners, solvents, household cleaners, or other chemicals. Very irritating chemicals may cause a reaction after just a short contact period. Milder chemicals can also cause a reaction after repeated contact. 

People with atopic dermatitis - sometimes called severe eczema, are at increased risk of developing irritant contact dermatitis.

Some of the substances that can cause irritant contact dermatitis include:

  • Household cleaners
  • Bleach
  • Detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets
  • Fragrant soaps
  • Shampoos, body wash lotion, moisturizers
  • Perfumes and preservatives in cosmetics and toiletries
  • Hair dyes and straighteners
  • Disinfectant and anti-bacterial hand sanitizers

Who's at risk of contact dermatitis?

Anyone can experience contact dermatitis, but some may be at greater risk. Until recently, it was believed that allergic contact dermatitis was rare. Unfortunately, new data indicates that it is prevalent in adults (more common in women than men) and affects close to 20% of children.

According to studies, the likelihood of developing irritant contact dermatitis increases with the substance's duration, intensity, and concentration. In other words, you may not see an immediate reaction (redness, rash, or itching) the first time you use a chemical. Still, with continued use, how often you use it, and the concentration of the chemical, the probability of reaction signs appearing increases greatly. Physical irritants like friction, abrasions, and detergents containing sodium lauryl sulfate produce more irritant contact dermatitis in combination than alone.

Females, infants, the elderly, and individuals, with atopic (eczema) tendencies are more susceptible to irritant contact dermatitis. It is reported that up to 80% of cases of occupational dermatitis are irritant contact dermatitis.

What to avoid? Let's look at a few of the common toxic ingredient culprits found in household cleaning and personal care products:

Household Cleaning Product Culprits:

Man looking through isles of toxic household cleaning products

  •  Ammonia: Found in disinfectants, window and glass cleaners, floor cleaners, all-purpose cleaners
  • Sodium hypochlorite: Found in disinfectants, all-purpose cleaners, spot removers
  • Sodium bisulfate: Found in toilet bowl cleaners
  • Phenol: Found in antibacterial cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, furniture polishes
  • Chloride and alkyl ammonium chloride: Found in mold and mildew removers
  • Solvents/Glycol Ethers: Found in furniture waxes and polishes, floor cleaners/waxes, degreasers, detergents, all-purpose cleaners
  • Fragrances: Found in a multitude of household cleaners, fabric sprays, air fresheners, soaps, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, all-purpose cleaners. Note: The term "fragrance" is a blanket term that includes more than 4000 chemicals. So, when "fragrance" is listed as an ingredient-BEWARE
  • Phthalates: These chemicals are often used as "fragrance" carriers
  • Phosphates: Found in all-purpose and multi-purpose cleaners, soaps, detergents

Personal Care Product Culprits:

Female looking at skincare products on store shelf. Image of toxic chemical vials overlay

  • Fragrance: Found in shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, moisturizer, deodorant, hair care products, cosmetics, face creams and serums, soaps, baby products
  • Oxybenzone: Found in sunscreens, hair sprays and cosmetics
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate: Found in shampoos, cleansers, body wash
  • Methylisothiazolinone: Found in shampoos, cleansers and cosmetics
  • PEGs (polyethylene glycols): Found in skin creams, lotions, soaps, cosmetics, shower gels, hair products, baby wipes, baby wash nail polish

Pro Tips for finding Kind-To-Skin Products:

  1. Read Labels: Arm yourself with knowledge (copy the above list for a quick "reference sheet"). Know which chemicals are in the product you're using. Try to avoid products that include ingredients you've had a reaction to in the past.
  2. Opt for Green Alternatives: Consider products with simple ingredient lists and mild, non-irritating ingredients. They may not be a 100% foolproof shield against dermatitis (everyone's skin is different). Still, they tend to be gentler on the skin and the environment and in most cases, the safer products are just as effective as the chemical laden products.
  3. Avoid Known Trigger Ingredients: If you have sensitive skin, it's a good idea to know which chemicals are in your cleaning and skin care products and try to avoid the ingredients you may have reacted to in the past as much as possible.

Remember, everyone's skin is different. The landscape of household cleaning, skincare, and personal care products is as diverse as our skin types. What may be irritating to one person might not be to another. It's always best to patch-test a new product before using it entirely, especially on children and older adults. If irritation occurs, discontinue use and consult a dermatologist.

Stay safe and keep your skin healthy! Remember, our skin is our largest organ-we need to mindful of what is absorbed through it.

Leave your questions - comments - and feedback. We love hearing from you!



Sources: PMID:30779160        PMID:30829811      PMID:30802934 Daniel Judd BSc MBiol https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxybenzone https://madesafe.org/blogs/viewpoint/chemical-profile-polyethylene-glycol-compounds-pegs
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