When you are a first-time mom, you get lots of advice; if you are a first-time mom of an eczema child, you get even more advice on everything from everyone, and sometimes they get contentious. Detergent is one of the issues where opinions differ – some say no detergent, some say little detergent, some say organic detergent and most of the time, it brings about frustration. So what is right?
Unfortunately, yet again, there is no clear cut answer. Detergents are everywhere, from laundry, to residue on our clothes (supposedly up to 2% of the fabric weight), towels, dishes, food containers, bedding, bathroom, floor, furniture, hair, skin (ours that come into contact with our children) and lint. There are parents who believe in cutting out all sources of detergent but given the prevalence of detergent even in dust, it is difficult to cut everything.
Below are some of what I’ve found out, from various research papers and online.
1. Increase in eczema is linked to increased usage of soap and detergent personal wash products in children (taken from review article Features of childhood atopic dermatitus by Hugo Van Bever and Genevieve Illanora, who in turn quoted Dr Michael Cork’s 2002 article)
Dr Michael Cork’s article in Dermatology in Practice published that eczema in british children increased from 3% in 1950s to more than 20%; during this time, the sales of detergent increased from 76m pounds in 1981 to 453m pounds in 2001. There is also an increase in central heating, carpeting, double glazing/wall insulation that promotes the environment for dust mite to thrive.
2. Is detergent bad?
Apparently, yes. Detergent strips the protective fats of our skin barrier, making it easier for irritant and allergen to penetrate. Eczema skin is dry, and thus more suspectible to cracks in the skin, making it even more vulnerable. The ingredients which are bad in detergent include sodium lauryl sulfate, triclosan, formaldehyde, sodium hydroxide, linalool and sodium flouride. These chemicals are not only used in detergent (including some hypoallergenic detergent), but also fabric softener, bubble bath, insect repellent, air freshener, toothpaste, bleach, liquid soap and baby wipes!
(A Sweden study showed that 5–7% of 3,000 eczema patients patch tested positive to linalool, which is found in 60-80% of perfumed hygiene products and detergent liquid. Linalool is a fragrance ingredient found naturally in lavender and mint, and when oxidised, can cause contact allergy).
3. So what to use and how to use?
Mild, fragrance-free, dye-free, lubricant-free, phosphate-free, brightener-free products suited for sensitive skin. (many webpages recommend puraderm, click this link for sample). Recommended to use liquid detergent, instead of solid and to use 1/8 to 1/2 of the recommended dosage (supposedly washing machines are more water-efficient now while detergents have gone more concentrated). Using more detergent than necessary does not make your clothes cleaner but instead creates a build-up of residue which you can tell if your clothes get stiff when dried.
4. So how far should you go in cutting down detergent?
Personally, I used as little detergent as I can pour out and I invested in a washing machine with allergy care function which supposedly washes away chemicals, which I think it does as each cycle is 2 hours! I clean my floor with water only and that’s about all the measures I take. I find exhaustively cutting all traces of detergent to be too exhausting and so far it hasn’t seem necessary from observing my baby’s skin reaction. What’s your take on this? Do drop me a comment!