You May Be Allergic To Your Laundry Detergent. Here's How To Tell

Allergies are an unfortunate part of some people's day-to-day lives. The Allergy & Asthma Network reported that more than 50 million people Americans have allergies, ranging from food allergies to asthma, and other categories. Many things cause allergies such as the air, what you're eating, or even what you touch. And because of that, any number of skincare or cleaning products could bring about an allergic reaction, including your laundry detergent.

According to the JAMA Network, allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) is something 1 in 5 people deal with. Plus, if you have a skin condition such as eczema you're more likely to have ACD. ACD is when your skin becomes irritated and breaks out in an allergic reaction just by touching something that irritated it.

Looking at freshly laundered clothes or towels, it might be hard to imagine those could make you itchy. They're soft and smell good. But because of the chemicals involved in laundry detergent, there is a valid reason to think that your detergent could be to blame. There are some studies that say it's uncommon to be allergic to your laundry detergent (more on that at the end) but it's also not an impossibility. Here's how to tell if you're allergic to the detergent you use to wash your laundry and what to do about it.

What causes an allergic reaction to laundry detergent?

Laundry detergent has a large variety of chemicals in it, no matter the brand. Healthline notes there are preservatives, enzymes, colors and dyes, fabric softeners, solvents, emulsifiers, and more. If you already have sensitive skin or a skin condition, a detergent packed with too many chemicals or fragrances will irritate your skin. This irritation from touching something to your skin is called contact dermatitis. 

As stated above, allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) is when something causes an allergic reaction by touching your skin. Another type is irritant contact dermatitis, which is when something rubs you the wrong way and causes harm to your skin, according to Healthline. Basically, you're not allergic, but you still have a reaction because your skin was rubbed raw or damaged enough to cause one. 

As Kind Laundry wrote, both types have similar symptoms which can include irritated skin, red or inflamed skin, or bumps on the skin, and don't have to be itchy. There could also be some swelling or tender areas that feel like they're hot. More severe symptoms could be blisters with the potential to pop. They also explain that some tell-tale signs that your rash is due to your detergent can be if it's widespread skin irritation and if it occurs in places you sweat more. The latter is because you're rubbing against your clothes with that part of your body more while adding in heat and sweat, worsening the irritation.

New and old detergents could cause allergies

Obviously, when confronted with a new skin irritation or allergic reaction, you'll want to go over anything you've changed recently. New food, skincare, health products, or cleaning products can all be a reason for a new allergic reaction. If you used a new laundry detergent or fabric softener, odds are that could be what's causing an allergic reaction.

However, if you haven't switched anything up, old laundry detergent is still known to be a potential allergen threat. Contact dermatitis can appear out of nowhere, so even if you've never had an allergic reaction to your detergent before, it's not exactly out of the running for what's making you break out. And if you use scent beads, your skin might be more vulnerable.

These beads are meant to boost fragrances in your laundry to make it smell better for longer. They also contain polyethylene glycol (PEG), which Dr. Jill Carnahan, MD told Parade can cause people to become more sensitive to chemicals. Basically, PEGs are meant to help a product break down gunk or odors. However, it can also have a negative impact on the skin and allow it to become more susceptible to absorbing toxins. "PEGs are widely utilized for their ability to enhance penetration and absorption," Dr. Carnahan said. "But this also means that prolonged use or high doses of PEG can significantly enhance your body's absorption of other toxins and harmful compounds that are found alongside PEGs or within the environment."

How to treat a laundry detergent allergy and avoid it in the future

Talking about scents alone, there are a lot of chemicals that make up a detergent's fragrance. Parade reported that most perfumes contain over a dozen chemicals that someone might have a reaction to. So just looking at the ingredients that help your detergent smell good, you're putting a lot of chemicals in contact with your skin that could make you break out. That's why one easy prevention tip is to use scent-free or dye-free detergent or even a natural detergent with fewer chemicals. Healthline also suggested doing an extra rinse cycle. You should stay away from fabric softeners or scent intensifiers like scent beads. Again, extra perfume adds more room for allergic reactions. You might also want to switch to dryer balls instead, which are better for the environment and for softening clothes anyway. 

If you have an allergic reaction, potentially from your detergent or not, you can treat it with over-the-counter creams that contain 1% hydrocortisone (if it's itchy or bumpy). You can also take Benadryl which helps with allergic reactions that make you puff up or have itchy bumps. Rest assured, though, that allergies to the detergent you wash your clothes in are reportedly uncommon. How Stuff Works cited a 2010 study that looked at 738 people and their reaction to detergent and found only 1% of them were actually allergic. Regardless, there's nothing wrong with taking precautions to prevent laundry detergent allergies.