Are you allergic to your washing powder?

Sensitive skin sufferers galore are irritated by the chemicals in most washing powders. Here are my top tips for choosing and using sensitive suds.

I’m feeling a little sore today after putting on a freshly washed pair of PJs last night and instantly breaking out in an unbearably itchy bout of hives.

A dash for the detergent box left me none the wiser – as I was dismayed to discover the following vague ingredients list:

This powder contains “amongst other” ingredients:

  • 15-30% Oxygen based bleaching agents (specific...)
  • 5-15% Non-ionic surfactants
  • >5% Zeolite, Cationic surfactants, Poly carboxylates, Phosphonates, Soap
  • Also contains Optical brightener (a clearly made-up word!), Perfume

Now I know we’re not ingesting the stuff but environmental triggers such as household products can cause serious flare-ups, as my back is living proof of!

For that reason, us sensitive skin sufferers need to know exactly what’s in the box.

Here’s what I’ve learnt about choosing sensitive skin-friendly suds:

  • Pick a liquid detergent over a powder, as it’s less likely to leave residues in your fabric.
  • Choose a non-biological detergent as these are enzyme-free. It is thought that enzymes can aggravate damaged skin and many report an immediate improvement after switching from biological.
  • Use half of the recommend amount of detergent or opt for Eco wash balls instead.
  • Use less detergent on garments and bed linen that is going to be in direct contact with the skin for sustained periods of time.
  • Pick an un-fragranced detergent as artificial fragrances are one of the most common skin irritants.
  • Opt for a long rinse cycle to ensure all detergent residues have been washed away.
  • Don’t overload your machine as this can prevent thorough rinsing.

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  • [email protected]

    my son mark has a major skin problem,will try the advise now. get back with results .ruth

  • Anonymous

    Hi Ruth, do let us know how you get on. It’s a very common allergy but one that’s quite easily avoided.

  • imk

    I will definately used these tips as my allergy is driving me nuts

  • roger moseley

    i had my skin problem now for 17 years rash on my feet thats my socks rash on my buttocks thats my pants rash on my body and arms thats my shirt . my body is red rore all the time from my neck down to my feet . i dont get nothing on my face . but my wife still packs the machine to wash the clothes . im sitting here now still red rore thing am i going to work tommorow or go to the doctors again .

  • Anonymous

    Hi Roger, thanks for getting in touch. It sound’s as though you are really suffering. Have you tried any of my tips above to help the situation?

  • Ali Ann Beswick-plank

    Thank you for such fabulous advice. I am feeling quite helpless at the moment. My son is five years old, suffers awful hay fever and now, has broken out in the most awful rash. It’s itchy, fierce and very troublesome. It looks like a contact dermatitis/ reaction to something. I have always used Ecover products, recently changing onto their washing liquid and fabric conditioner. I was under the impression these products were less harsh on the skin. ( i am using the non-bio variety) Can you kindly recommend or advise on a safer less harsh washing liquid? Thank you again. PS i love your skin care, works wonders on my sensitive skin..

  • Anonymous

    Hi Ali, Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. If the rash and the product change happened around the same time you should definitely explore whether they are linked. I’m afraid I can’t recommend one good liquid right now – I will have a think and get back to you though. In the meantime you could try using an Eco ball? You can email [email protected] for more in depth advice about both your son’s eczema and an alternative solution. Sorry I can’t be of more help right now! x

  • “Itchy”

    Can anyone recommend an un-fragranced detergent? My search has so far proved unsuccessful!

  • Anonymous

    Ecover do a fragrance-free detergent and there’s also the option of using an eco-ball. There are quite a few fragrance-free options avaliable now, especially in shops such as Whole Foods. Hope that helps! x

  • charlyn

    So how do you treat such wounds? Everytime I wash my hands it gets dryer and more cuts appear. I have yet to find a cure for it. I’ve tried antiseptic cream but it just makes me itchy and doesn’t seem to cure it. /:

  • Anonymous
  • Graeme Miller

    Hi could you please answer a question. As well as wearing clothes having contact with the skin thus causing an allergic reaction. Can soap powder go airborn. As my mother does washing on a daily basis. She hangs the washing on clothes dryers and when I sit in tye washings company it drives me nuts and makes me itch like yell. Any help would be appreciated. Graeme Miller

  • Anonymous

    Hi Graeme, I’m afraid I can’t be sure about washing powder becoming airborne. But if you’re suffering from a reaction when you come into contact with the washing powder, I’d reommend trying out another brand. I hope that helps. x

  • teenah hopkins

    can washing powder allergic reaction make you feel like you’re having Bugs bite you

  • Anonymous

    Hi Teenah, Yes, it could do. Reactions can manifest themselves in different ways and feeling a though your skin is being ‘bitten’ or pinched could be one. x

  • Tina

    Can you give some examples of brands of laundery detergent in the USA that are non-biological? I think I have developed an allergy to my laundery detergent, and I am having a hard time finding something that is not irritating myskin. Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Tina, I’m afraid I can’t list any specific brands, but I know there are some good options available in the US. The best thing for you to do would be visit your local health food store and ask for their recommendations. x

  • Tony

    Had problems with persil when I was a young lad, now my new housemate is using aerial tablets, I have been coming out in red rashes small bumpy spots that don’t itch, do you think the residue of the tablets left in the washing machine is affecting the area???

  • Anonymous

    Hi Tony, it certainly sounds as though the two are linked, particularly if you’ve had problems in the past. Maybe ask your housemate to switch to a different forumla for a while to see if you notice a difference?

  • Rocky Onfire

    Try sudo cream, and then wash with oil free wash they. will help,

    it might be washing power, dust in the air that gets caught in clothing and bedding, it could also be clorine in your water supply.

  • Charleigh

    Every time I go Down to my dads (he lives in Portsmouth near the sea) I get a rash all over my body but it tends to be worse on my face. I don’t know if it’s because they have different water to us or the washing detergent, and sometimes on my stomach I get little flesh coloured parts on my skin if you can get back to methat would be great. Thank you x

  • Anonymous

    Hi Charleigh, it sounds like you might be having a reaction to something in your Dad’s house. A washing powder reaction might be fairly likely – especially if you’re sleeping in freshly washed sheets! Trying asking your Dad to switch to a new formula and see if that makes a difference. x

  • Simon Massey

    I changed my washing so
    Powder from Bold to Surf just recently because of price and have been through he’ll with itchy rashes coming up all over my body especially where clothes rub against your skin like chest arms legs.I’ve been to doctors 5 times for steroid creams and moisturising creams and they helped but didn’t take the itching and rashes away until I went back to Bold again couldn’t believe Surf was the reason the itching was unbearable causing bleeding sometimes I’m writing this in case anyone else has had the same trouble?

  • Anonymous

    Hi Simon, it definitely sounds as though you’ve suffered a reaction to your washing powder. At least you’ve managed to indentify the root of your itching! If your rash flares up again, we would recommend applying our Comfrey & Calendula Calming Body Cream – it’s packed with soothing anti-inflammatories and hydrating butters to calm even the most irritated skin. Hope that helps!

  • Zazu Whatyougonnado

    I switched over to an American product called All Free and Clear. In a week all redness and itching went away. And it hasn’t come back. Looks like I am allergic to the fragrance used in laundry detergents. All doesn’t have any fragrances at all.

  • laura

    I have been getting rashes on my arms, face/neck and bottom for a few months now, and my doctor told me to change washing detergent. it’s been a long process washing everything (clothes sheets towels) and so my rashes haven’t completely gone away. I find that taking antihistamines helps calm the itchiness, and sitting in the sun also helps. however whenever I have a shower or my skin gets wet, my skin starts to get red and itchy (and this is before I use soap), not sure what that means.

  • David

    Hi Laura, I am in exactly the same position as you and its driving me crazy right now.
    I first had it at towards the end of last summer and now it has started again about 2 months ago.
    Like you I am only finding relief from anti-histamines and also calamine lotion but if miss taking one for just a day then the itching quickly begins.
    I don’t believe my problem is caused by soaps for the bath/shower but feel it is something on my clothes/bed sheets or possibly some pollen in the air although ive never been allergic to anything in my life!
    I am going to try a new detergent today otherwise I am stuck on these tables and lotion for the rest of my life!
    Please let me know if you find any relief and I will likewise.

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