What is an allergy?
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. Examples include: pollen, dust mites, mould spores, pet dander and foods such as peanuts, eggs, milk, insect stings, medicines, preservatives and fragrances. 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.
However - the substances found in detergent cleaning/maintenance products have rarely been found to cause an allergic reaction. Even if in a minority of people asthma like symptoms may occur, there is little evidence to suggest that cleaning products cause respiratory allergies. The same applies to skin reactions, which can occur from corrosive or irritant substances, if the required protection is not in place. 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 detergent 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 (26 fragrance ingredients and all preservative ingredients are listed along with their INCI* name on the label) of the substances in your detergent or maintenance products by consulting the label and checking the corresponding website which provides information on such ingredients. For information please click here
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 e.g. skin exposure, such as wearing gloves.
• When you select / purchase detergent or maintenance products always check the label of each product 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 consumers’ service for more information on specific ingredients of their products.(1 and 2)
Safety testing of cleaning and maintenance products to avoid development of allergy
Companies placing consumer goods on the market are responsible for ensuring that the product is safe for its intended purpose and for foreseeable misuse (or exaggerated use). In order to ensure that products are used safely, and as intended, you should always read the pack labels. (3)
However, out of all the different ingredients possibly contained in detergents and maintenance products fragrances and preservatives are considered to be the main substances that may cause an allergy. Both of these materials are used routinely in many types of consumer goods to which you may come into contact with on a daily basis. It is relatively rare that detergent and cleaning products cause allergic reactions.
Preservatives are included in detergent and cleaning products to ensure that the product quality is retained and does not degrade in any way. There are a very limited number of cases where people have experienced an allergic reaction to preservatives in detergents. Preservatives are always indicated on the label using their INCI* name, enabling you to choose the right product (2 and 3).
A fragrance is generally composed as a combination of different substances. Fragrances are found in many consumer goods.
The 26 most common fragrance allergens have been identified by the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS, formerly known as SCCP). It is compulsory for these fragrance ingredients, when they are present above 0.01%, to be indicated on the product pack label. This enables consumers to make an informed decision as to whether this product is appropriate for them, if they know to have allergic reactions to these substances.
INCI is the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients. The use of INCI makes it easy for consumers in all countries, irrespective of language differences, to easily recognize the ingredients present. On the label, the names of substances are written with INCI.
1. NVZ-leaflet “Was- en reinigingsmiddelen”
2. AISE leaflet “Understanding your Detergents label”
3. Procter & Gamble: ‘science in the box’.