Top 5 Allergens in Soaps that Cause Dermatitis
A bar of soap may look
harmless, but it could be packed with allergens that can cause dermatitis.What is dermatitis?
Dermatitis is a symptom, not a disease, and the word can apply to a wide range
of skin conditions. Essentially, dermatitis is any inflammation of the skin
that leads to redness, scaling, itching or tiny fluid-filled blisters.
Dermatitis can have any number of causes, from fungal infection to fleas, but allergic
contact dermatitis occurs when our bodies take in an allergy through our
skin and, as a result, become inflamed. Like food allergies, most of these
substances are harmless when ingested by people who aren't allergic, but there
are also plants (like poison ivy) that produce contact dermatitis in a majority
of the population. Oddly, the most common contact allergen isn't even a plant
-- it's nickel.
The quickest way to develop
allergic contact dermatitis is by rubbing something you're allergic to on your
bare skin. Something we rub on our skin on a regular basis is soap. Ironically,
a product that's supposed to cleanse your skin can end up causing you a lot of
pain and aggravation. We'll take a look at five of the most common allergens in
soaps that cause dermatitis.
5: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)
is a common ingredient found in soaps and shampoos. SLS is a detergent, which
means it does a good job of breaking up oil and grease. It's also the substance
that makes soap get frothy when you rub it on your body.
So how does SLS contribute
to contact dermatitis? One common skin-care myth is that the oil on our bodies
is dirty, but the truth is that we need a reasonable amount of it for
protection. While SLS is useful for breaking up greasy foreign substances, it
also breaks up the layer of oil that keeps our skin from drying out. And while
it's not technically an allergen because it doesn't provoke a reaction from the
immune system, SLS can cause contact dermatitis and aggravate eczema by
weakening that oily barrier on our skin. This means that SLS can usher other
allergic elements into your body. After repeated exposure to these elements,
you may develop reactions to things you weren't allergic to before.
If you're having a problem
with dry, itchy skin, check your soap for sodium lauryl sulfate. It also
appears in toothpaste and bubble bath -- pretty much anything that foams up to
get you clean.
Wait, fragrance? Isn't that
a little general? Unfortunately, yes. The soap market is a cutthroat place, and
companies are cagey about revealing the ingredients that make their formulas
smell just right. When you see fragrance listed as an ingredient on a skin care
product, you're looking at a top-secret mix of esters, ketones, aldehydes,
amines and more. This makes it difficult to construct allergy tests for
fragrance because, in North America in particular, we don't even know what the
ingredients in most fragrances are.
Even though fragrance
doesn't actually contribute to skin cleansing, it's one of the most common
contact allergens in soap. Furthermore, fragrance allergens are found in just
about any cosmetic product that doesn't carry a "fragrance-free"
label. And because the cosmetics industry (which is largely self-regulated in
the United States) is pretty secretive about its formulas, the estimated range
of cosmetic products that contain the fragrance allergens used for skin patch
testing is anywhere from 15 percent to all of them.
3: Coconut Diethanolamide
While allergic reactions to
ingesting coconut are rare, it's not uncommon to have an allergic reaction to
touching them. You'd think that it would be harder for your body to deal with
things you put in your mouth than stuff that just touches your skin, but
coconuts are an exception. What's more, they show up in all kinds of skin care
products, both for their delicious scent and their ability to moisturize and
However, coconuts can also
be made into coconut diethanolamide, a detergent that helps create a stable
lather when you're washing with soap. Like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), coconut
diethanolamide can break down skin's oily barrier layer and dry it out, but certain
people develop more intense allergic reactions to it. Since coconut
diethanolamide is a common ingredient in skin care products such as barrier
creams and hand protection foams, sensitizing can happen rapidly. You may begin
to develop reactions after using a product for two or three months. Regular
rinse-off soaps, however, take much longer to produce a reaction -- more like
five to seven years [source: Duffill].
Check ingredient lists for coconut diethanolamide, and be aware that it may be
masquerading under such names as coconut oil acid, cocamide DEA, ninol,
witcamide and calamide.
Paraben is both an
industrially produced and naturally occurring ester. Used as a preservative,
it's usually near the bottom of the ingredient list in shampoos, soaps,
toothpaste and deodorant. Allergic reactions to it are relatively rare when you
consider how common it is, but different types of parabens also often appear in
the same product, increasing the chance of a reaction.
One thing that should be
mentioned regarding parabens is that a 2004 study in the United Kingdom linked
them to breast cancer after trace amounts of methylparaben were found in breast
cancer tumor biopsies [source: Yarosh].
Although further research has produced no conclusive evidence that parabens
cause cancer, many consumers are still worried, preferring to take a
better-safe-than-sorry approach to skin care. Whether or not the claims about
the dangers of parabens are true, cosmetics companies have compensated for the
backlash and now offer a wide variety of paraben-free products.
Parabens go by a long list
of chemical pseudonyms, so if you think you're allergic to paraben, check your
soaps and medicine cabinet for anything with paraben or parahydroxybenzoic in
1: Balsam of Peru
Balsam of Peru, also known
as myroxylon, is a sticky sap that smells like vanilla and cinnamon. It's used
as an ingredient in soaps, perfumes and shampoos both for its smell and for its
quality as a fixative, which helps slow down evaporation. It's also added to
certain medications and food, showing up in everything from calamine lotion to
cough medicine and cola.
Cinnamein, a well-documented
potential allergen, makes up between 60 and 70 percent of balsam of Peru, while
the other 30 to 40 percent is made of unknown resins, any of which can provoke
an allergic reaction. It's one of the most common causes of contact dermatitis,
and about half of people who have a fragrance allergy have a reaction to balsam
of Peru. The most common symptom is hand eczema in the case of skin contact,
and when it's consumed, rashes may form around the mouth.
At LifeSource our All Natural Hand Made Soaps are never made with any of these harmful ingredients! Ever!
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