The second you switch laundry detergents and end up with any form of a rash, the finger of blame gets put on said detergent. All of a sudden you begin telling yourself that you must be allergic to the detergent and you ban it from your home. This has happened numerous times in my house as my dad tends to get really bad rashes from something (the jury is still out). We’ve tried shower filters and even switching detergents, but nothing helps. Still, he’s quite stubborn and continues to think that detergent is to blame. But is there any evidence that detergent is indeed the culprit?

Proctor and Gamble (maker of Gain, Tide, and Downy) would like you to know that they don’t think so. The company has always been trying to dispel myths about detergents being the reason behind skin allergies but it’s hard to believe coming from them, so they decided to do research, sort of. P & G has listed trials in which exposure to detergents were exaggerated so we could see their impact on skin. Everything from hand immersion into detergents to wearing a patch moistened with detergent was tried out but little to no irritation was found from the them. Details on the studies however were summarized, we’re not sure what brands they used and at one point they just said “This test can involve 12-64 volunteer panelists, depending on the number of products being tested.” P&G completely forgot to mention how many people were actually used. Another issue is that trials were from 1992 and 1963 respectively. These days’ washers can be bought with a “high efficiency" option. This means that less detergent and water is needed, also new formulations of detergents have been created to meet the needs of high efficiency washers. We simply need newer trials factoring in these types of washers and detergents.

In 2002, a study was conducted by Donald V. Belsito from the University of Kansas involving detergents called “Allergic contact dermatitis to detergents.” They also concluded that less than 1% of patients in whose cases a laundry product was suspected reacted to allergy testing with detergent. So far it seems that science is favoring the idea that detergent isn't to blame for allergic reactions.

In the end, brands are trying to protect themselves from the label that their products could cause allergic skin reactions, but they haven’t been able to distance themselves from the label of skin irritant. People who deal with issues like eczema and psoriasis could have their symptoms escalated with some products that use chemicals like sodium lauryl sulfate and other cleansing agents. In an attempt to combat this, laundry detergents these days come in brands that are said to be sensitive to the skin. “Free and Clear” and “Green Works” are just some of the labels on supermarket shelves that are trying to lure in customers with sensitive skin.

Completely green alternatives are also making a stand. New to the game are Eco Nuts which is a completely interesting idea when it comes to washing clothes. Eco Nuts are dried fruit shells that come from the sapindus mukorossi tree that have the ability to clean and slightly foam when agitated. When purchasing, you get some of the nuts and a bag, you simply put the nuts in the bag and throw them in the washing machine. After completion, you can reuse them but after 10 loads, they become useless and can be used as compost for your garden. They contain no dyes, fragrances, fillers, enzymes or optical brighteners and are 100 percent SLS (sodium laurel sulfate) and phosphate-free. A very green option for someone that either has sensitive skin or is sensitive to the environment.

When it all boils down, I can’t imagine laundry detergents creating products that will damage your skin day in and day out. If it were really a factor then there would be much more complaints. The chemicals aren’t the greatest in these brands, but we’re not slathering them on our bodies and they do wash out to a large extent in the wash cycle. But I would love to see some more research done involving the effects of detergents on people with skin conditions such as eczema, but until then, I guess we can always opt for Eco Nuts.