Laundry Additives, Fabric Conditioners, Washing Detergents and Allergic Contact Dermatitis (Unbearable Itching and Burning Skin)

This article may be of interest if you or your loved ones suffer from an irritating allergic skin rash – particularly if you think this could be caused by a recent change in your washing detergent or another fabric modifying additive like whitener/brightener or a fabric conditioner/softener. 

While you read why not listen to my album ‘Electro Baroque‘ (all tracks are also available on iTunes using the link here)? Classical music using modern instruments:

or if you prefer to listen to my electro/techno album ‘Studio Valiumm‘ here are the videos (also on iTunes using the link here):

More info about my music is at the dedicated website www.TRANSFORMATES.com

In this weeks blog I would like to share with you something which is close to my heart. In fact as I type this article the skin around my heart (and most of my body) is covered in a very irritating red rash, bumps and various other inflamed lesions which are typical of allergic contact dermatitis.

The skin around my chest showing symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis

The skin around my chest showing symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis

Many years ago a quarter of my first degree which I studied at the Manchester Medical School involved immunology or the study of allergic reactions and what can cause them. As a result I hope that as an informed layman I can transfer my understanding to you of some of the things that can cause these painful and irritating skin reactions and help you to consider what to do about them. Let me stress I am not a medical doctor – just another sufferer.

My first thought as my own symptoms occurred was that I had simply developed a heat rash. This was due to the arrival of summer in Europe and a recent increase in my aerobic exercises both of which might encourage a heat rash if the skin is unable to sweat properly.

Allergic contact dermatitis symptoms across my whole chest region

Allergic contact dermatitis symptoms across my whole chest region

I was able to eliminate the idea of heat rash as the cause by stopping my exercise routine and avoiding exposure to heat and sun (quite easy with the rather cool and wet ‘summer’ we are having here at the moment!). The symptoms continued to get worse and quickly spread across most of my body. Heat rash normally goes away after a short while (a few hours to a couple of days) once the causes are addressed. However my symptoms were getting worse. These symptoms included a red skin rash over a large area with spots/bumps, itching, and a burning pain.

Most readers will be aware of the skin irritation you get following a mosquito or tick bite. Although we know it is better not to scratch the affected area it is almost impossible not to do this as it appears, at first, to ease the irritation. However any relief is short lived and soon after you stop scratching the itchiness returns but now it is even worse. Clearly you can not keep scratching because you risk damaging your skin and perhaps causing a more serious infection of the area concerned. Well now try and imagine what it is like having 1000 mosquito bites all over your body – that is roughly how I am feeling at the moment. Much as I would like to scratch, I would have to scratch my whole body and the problem could be made far more serious. So don’t scratch Chris!

Symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis on my left arm

Symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis on my left arm

Another reason I was certain this was not simply a heat rash was that the symptoms were spreading to several parts of my body, like my arms and legs. Heat rash is generally localised and often occurs where two skin regions touch like under the arms, breasts or in the groin area. This contact inflammation can be exacerbated if you are overweight. The photo above is my left arm which is the part of my body that does not have to do much work (I am right handed). Therefore I decided this was not simply a heat rash.

The rash spread to my groin area with its somewhat sensitive appendages and to my legs (don’t worry I will not inflict ‘medical’ photos of these areas on you). By this stage I had started to avoid wearing clothes wherever possible and stay in the coolest locations I could find. As I felt I had eliminated heat rash I started to examine other possible causes. The symptoms and circumstances I describe below indicated to me that this was an allergic contact dermatitis.

Suspect 1: Dylon White n Bright

Suspect 1: Dylon White n Bright

Over the last month I had made 3 changes to the way I wash clothes:

1. I used a whitener (Dylon’s White’n’Bright) in 3 washing machines full of white clothes

2. I started adding Lenor Softener (Proctor & Gamble) which I had bought recently

3. I used a new box of Persil colour capsules (Unilever) to wash my coloured clothes

All of these types of products: soap powder, detergents, softeners and other washing additives, have been suspected of eliciting allergic reactions in sensitive people.

Suspect 1: Dylon White n Bright 3 Packet hazard warning and contents

Suspect 1: Dylon White n Bright 3 Packet hazard warning and contents

At this time of year I have very light bed coverings – often usually only a sheet. To avoid getting too cool at night I often wear long armed T-shirts in bed with long pyjama trousers. Both items had recently been washed using one or more of the three products above. I was surprised that my back and shoulders were relatively free of the allergy symptoms. However as I tend to sleep on my chest or sides I assume that my sleeping position forced the allergen (the stuff that causes the allergic reaction) from my clothes into the skin area around my chest and sides. This in effect sensitized these areas which led to a slightly delayed (about two days later) full blown response.

My chest area which was the first to develope the allergy symptoms (I sleep on my stomach)

My chest area which was the first to develop the allergy symptoms (I sleep on my stomach)

If you are trying to identify causes for similar symptoms you are experiencing there are a number of possible causes of allergic contact dermatitis.

The most common items containing allergic stimulants (allergens) tend to be clothes washing detergents, fabric conditioners/softeners, perfumes and perfumed soaps, colognes, make-up/cosmetic products, rubber clothing items like gloves, smoke and certain kinds of plants (like poison ivy, poison sumac and poison oak), dyes and items containing precious metals like nickel and gold. Sometimes an everyday item may contain an unexpected allergen, for example nickel may be in bra stays, hairpins, eyelash curlers, frames of glasses, necklace clasps, zips, thimbles, watch straps, jewellery and insecticides. These are just some common causes – for a more comprehensive list you should consult your allergy specialist.

To identify the cause of an allergic contact dermatitis consider the exact location of the skin response. For example a reaction around the ear-lobes may indicate nickel in an ear ring as the cause. Reactions near the eyes may be due to cosmetics, finger nail products or something that is airborne (pollen, sprays, plant products). Allergens in toothpaste, lip-balm or mouthwash may cause reactions in or around the mouth. If your feet are involved perhaps something in or associated with your shoes is the cause (leather tanning agents, socksglues, inserts or buckles) or a foot powder. The neck region could indicate an allergen contained in cosmetics, aftershave, cologne or perfume. These can often be made worse by sunlight. Antiperspirants and deodorants usually affect the underarm area as do certain textiles in particular wool. Detergents may be the cause of problems around the hands.

Also consider whether the area affected has been in contact with tars, fibreglass, rubbers (e.g. latex gloves), clothing dyes, chemicals or items treated with chemicals, adhesives (like tapes), soaps, detergents, bleaches, cleaning agents, vinegar, antiseptic or salts of metals.

Week 3 of Chris Duggleby's Allergic Contact Dermatitis - What you see on the arm is typical of the whole body

Week 3 of Chris Duggleby’s Allergic Contact Dermatitis – What you see on the arm is typical of the whole body

As I am doing with the three additives above try to eliminate the cause of the irritation or the potential causes. If the dermatitis goes away and you have eliminated more than one substance you can gradually reintroduce the items one at a time to narrow down the culprit. If this doesn’t work your doctor or medical specialist may recommend doing a skin allergy patch test in which very small doses of potential allergens are brought in contact with the skin (under a patch) to see if they cause an allergic response.

Sadly the constant irritation means I have been unable to complete my last piece of baroque music to share with you this week. However you are welcome to share the tracks already produced by clicking on my play-list below. I will certainly be listening to this as I try and relax with a nice piece of non-allergenic chocolate.

Well that is all for this week – I need to save some time for the mountain of re-washing I have to do to try and clean out any remaining traces of suspect additives in my clothes. As soon as I have determined exactly which additive caused my problems I will add a more detailed report to the risk articles section of this website (including more photos). Have a great (and if possible soothing) week.

Chris Duggleby

PS. Allergy sufferers may also find the following article of interest:

Torture In The Shower – Face and Body Soap Allergies – Main Suspect: Pears Transparent Soap

The 'spotless' Author - taken before he started using Lenor Fabric Conditioner

The ‘spotless’ Author – taken before he started using the 3 suspect washing additives

If you found this article interesting please consider taking a look at some of my other recent reports on similar subjects.

Just click on the titles below:

28th Feb 2017: Vaccinations Cause Children to Masturbate, as well as Dyslexia, Autism, Sleep Disorders and Brain Tumours

31st May 2015: German Concern about Potentially Carcinogenic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Cosmetics  

21st June 2015: Bio-undies: Guilt free Passion with ‘Easy Emma’ and ‘Loose Harry’ and Getting Rid of Garden Snails with Rent-a-Duck

11th May 2014: Product Development Risk: New Air Conditioning Coolant Gas Produces Carbonyl Difluoride (Highly Toxic – Related to WW1 Gas Phosgene) in Vehicle Fires

16th April 2014: Ethical Pricing: Same Drug – For Leukaemia 21 Euro(Now Withdrawn) – For Multiple Sclerosis 888 Euro

6th April 2014: Product Quality Risk: Shoes Sold On-line By Zalando Recalled Due To Chromium 6 Contamination – Known Allergen And Carcinogen

You can also find some of my more humorous reports in the Alpine Press section of this site using the link here.

Now prepare to be uplifted!

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4 thoughts on “Laundry Additives, Fabric Conditioners, Washing Detergents and Allergic Contact Dermatitis (Unbearable Itching and Burning Skin)

  1. Hey Chris…..think i have the same thing….i inherited a half used bucket of what i thought was laundry powder….turned out to be very caustic dishwasher powder. Have washed every single item i own in hypoallergenic detergent, baking soda and vinegar. Its been a week, and although my skin isnt so dry…the initial bumps (which look like goosebumps everywhere) are no better. Ive been on allergy meds every day to stop the histamine response….all to no avail. Am i just being impatient? How long did it take for your skin to completely clear? Thanks-Lila

    • Hi Lila,
      I’m afraid it took about 6 weeks once I had eradicated all sources of the cause (I was pretty radical – threw out all potentially contaminated clothes). However after 6 weeks all symptoms cleared up completely so the approach worked. I didn’t take any antihistamines or other medications – just suffered until my body had sorted out the problem (which involved many almost sleepless nights due to the itchiness). Good luck.
      Chris.

    • Hi Madeline,
      I stopped using any additives when I wash clothes – I have been only washing with water for a couple of years now. I usually wash a bit (10-20 C) warmer than normal to be a tougher on any bugs (and dirt) and I have a water softener installed (it just uses salt). Any clothes washed with the worst offender (the whitener mentioned in my article) had to be thrown out – I just didn’t want to risk a recurrence. Now my skin is fine – I actually became more aware of other less nasty irritations (like Pears body soap) – so stopped using that too. Having had so much success each time I got rid of a detergent/soaps etc I went the whole hog a year ago and also stopped using shampoo – took a few months for my hair to adjust (the shampoo had made my hair overproduce grease) – now it is fine. I will do an article with pics on the shampoo later. I have never felt so clean!
      Good luck!
      Chris.

Please share your comments on the site with me (or use this box to simply contact me). Add 'confidential' at the top if you do not want your comments to be published. Thanks - Chris

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