An allergy is an over-reaction by the immune system of a person to something usually harmless to other people.

Common substances known to be able to cause allergic reactions are proteins or chemical substances, including pollen, dust mites, mould spores, pet dander, insect stings, medicines, preservatives and fragrances, and some foods, such as peanuts, eggs and milk.

It is not yet fully understood why some substances trigger allergies and others do not, nor why only some people develop an allergic reaction after exposure to allergens. Generally, allergies can cause various reactions such as a runny nose, sneezing, itching, rashes, swelling or asthma. It is estimated that one in four people will experience an allergy at some point in their lives.

The substances found in detergents and cleaning products have rarely been found to cause an allergic reaction. Certain sensitive people may occasionally develop a skin rash known as ‘contact dermatitis’ even from the normal use of detergent products. However, only 10% of all skin reactions are caused by allergies.  

If you suspect you have a skin allergy caused by detergents or maintenance products please follow these steps: 

  1. If you have health problems that you think may be caused by a possible allergic reaction to something: Go and see your physician.

  2. When visiting your physician, take a list of all the products that you have used in the previous weeks, along with the packaging where possible. Sometimes the fabrics or the jewellery you have worn may also be of interest for your physician. Also take note of any lifestyle and dietary changes you may have made. 

  3. The physician will refer you to a dermatologist if necessary. Keep the list of products and any packaging for the dermatologist to see. The dermatologist may conduct a diagnostic patch test to determine what substances you may be allergic to.

  4. If you are diagnosed with an allergy, the dermatologist will provide you with information on what substance you are allergic to, advice on avoidance of the substance(s) and provide any treatment necessary to resolve the skin or whatever other reaction.

  5. Ensure you know the chemical names of the substances in your detergent and cleaning products by consulting the label and checking the corresponding website which provides information on such ingredients. 

  6. To avoid a re-appearance of your allergy, you should avoid exposing yourself to this material again as far as possible. You can do this by:

    Checking detergent and maintenance products you already have in your home. If such product contains the substance, stop using the product or take precautions to limit exposure, for example, by wearing gloves. 

    • When you buy a product, always check the label to see whether it contains the substance you are allergic to. Check the manufacturer’s or the brand’s website for the full list of ingredients. 

    • You can also call or write to the manufacturer’s consumer service for more information on specific ingredients of their products.

Skin irritations often have similar symptoms to allergic reactions (e.g. reddening or itching). They are strictly limited to that area of skin which comes into contact with the irritating substance. Irritations are fundamentally different to allergic reactions: irritations become manifest within minutes or a few hours after contact with the skin-irritating substance, even without previous sensitisation. Skin-irritating substances usually need to be present in higher concentrations to cause an irritation.

Washing laundry and cleaning living spaces decisively contribute to reducing allergy burdens in the living environment of allergic persons. One example is the reduction of allergens from house dust mites, which occur particularly in bedclothes, bedding and mattresses.

Read more information on ingredients and allergens.

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