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Are the enzymes in ‘biological’ laundry detergents a source of skin rashes?

Enzymes in laundry detergent do not cause skin rashesYou might buy ‘non-bio’ because you fear the enzymes in ‘biological’ laundry detergents can cause skin rashes, but you don't need to worry. Here's why.

Worries about a link between fabrics washed with detergents containing enzymes and allergic skin reactions or irritation first surfaced in the 1980s, but it has been thoroughly debunked since then.

It was during the 1980s that modern enzyme systems became widely used, and the idea that these enzymes could cause rashes is a myth which has persisted despite numerous scientific studies demonstrating that no link exists.

The myth's persistence puzzles the rest of Europe, and the UK, Ireland and Australia are the only places in the world where ‘non-bio’ detergents are widely available. In other countries, everyone uses detergents with enzymes, and skin problems are no more common.

Scientific studies disprove the link

In 2008, Dr David Basketter and colleagues from St Thomas’ Hospital, Nottingham University and St Mary’s Hospital carried out a review of 44 individual research papers which had looked into the link between enzymes and skin allergies. They concluded that "investigations of numerous individuals with skin complaints attributed to laundry products demonstrate convincingly that enzymes were not responsible".

These included ‘blind’ studies, in which people have been given identical laundry detergents with and without enzymes to use, without knowing which was which. Those who were given the enzyme products showed no increase in skin reactions.

Because ‘non-bio’ detergents tend to be bought by people with sensitive skin, manufacturers now tend to make them specially mild to be as kind as possible to skin.

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