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A Laundry List of Allergens

By Tom Branna, Editorial Director | April 16, 2017

No matter if your politics are left or right of center, there is no denying that consumers are more sensitive than ever!

Gluten-Free. Lactose-Intolerant. The Right rails against our “snowflake culture,” but no matter if your politics are left or right of center, there is no denying that consumers are more sensitive than ever! Although there a laundry list of potential allergens, laundry detergent manufacturers were among the first FMCG makers to recognize this issue and in recent years, major soapers such as Henkel and Procter & Gamble have increased their offerings to appeal to consumers who say they have sensitive skin.
 
 
Detergent makers have increased their marketing budgets to appeal to dermatologists, too. In fact, Procter & Gamble had one of the biggest exhibition stands at this year’s American Academy of Dermatology annual meeting. Of course, P&G was promoting its hair and skin care business to dermatologists, too, but there was a clear focus on keeping potential skin irritants out of detergents, too.
 
 
“The sensitive skin category is increasing disproportionately than the laundry detergent category overall,” noted Mary Johnson, senior scientific communications manager, P&G. “Dermatologists need to know that there are options.”

 
So do consumers. According to P&G’s research, 80% of consumers with sensitive skin say they have to sacrifice cleaning power when they want to use a non-irritating laundry detergent.
 
 
Not so, maintains P&G. Tide Free & Gentle and Tide Pods Free & Gentle contain “lift & block technology” that is said to remove more stains than the leading free detergent and prevents the soils from redepositing onto fabrics. Moreover, P&G maintains that in tests, Tide Free & Gentle removed more residue from stains than the leading free detergent and Tide Pods Free & Gentle outperformed the leading free detergent on 10 stains under single-wash conditions on polycotton fabric in a standard top-loading washer.
 
 
Of course, executives at Henkel would be the first to disagree with those claims. Henkel acquired the All Free Clear laundry brand when it purchased Sun Products last year. Company executives are quick to point out that All Free Clear remains the No. 1 recommended laundry detergent by dermatologists, allergists and pediatricians.  The formula was awarded the NEA Seal of Acceptance, too. According to Henkel, All free clear liquid laundry detergent, fabric softener and dryer sheets rinse clean and are clinically proven to be gentle on skin, while removing 99% of the top everyday and seasonal allergens.

 
Henkel must be pleased with sales of detergents for sensitive people. For example, according to IRI, mass market sales of liquid laundry detergents rose just 1.46% last year. In contrast, sales of All Stainlifter Free & Clear soared 74%.

 
While Henkel and Procter & Gamble fight it out in the laundry detergent aisle to decide “who is the gentlest one of all,” dermatologists are scratching their heads trying to determine the root cause of all of this sensitivity; and in many instances, the culprit is fragrance.
 
 
During the AAD annual meeting, Duke Dermatology’s Amber Reck Atwater, MD, noted that fragrance allergy affects at least 1% of the population. In the patch test population, positive patch test for Fragrance Mix I is 4-11% and for Myroxylon pereirae is 1.6-10.8%. Interestingly, fragrance allergy peaks earlier for women (sixth decade) than men (seventh decade).

 
But no matter their age, “patients with fragrance allergy should use ‘fragrance-free,’ not ‘unscented’ products,” noted Atwater. She noted that four fragrances were listed as frequent allergens for 2013-14 NACDG test results: Fragrance Mix I, Fragrance Mix II, Myroxylon Pereirae and Cinnamic Aldehyde.

 
“There are 2,800 fragrances in use; they may be synthetic or natural,” she noted. “And there are at least 100 known fragrance allergens.”

 
But fragrance isn’t the only culprit. According to Atwater, there were seve preservatives listed as frequent allergens for 2013-14 NACDG test results: methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone/methylisothiazolinone (MCI/MI), formaldehyde, iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, quternium-15, propylene glycol and methyldibromo glutaronitrile.
 
 
But before consumers toss their detergents and begin rinsing their clothes in purified spring water, people should know that there are a whole lot of materials that can cause an allergic reaction; for example, metals such as gold and nickel (which is on the rise due to body piercings); azo dyes (which color many fabrics); and, of course, paraphenylenediamine (PPD), which can be found in hair color, black henna tattoos, and materials such as textiles, rubber and plastics.

 
Even medications are a primary source of contact allergens, according to Margo Reeder, MD, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Well known topicals such as Bacitracin and Neomycin have been blamed for localized dermatitis and post-op dermatitis.
 
 
The allergen potential of metals, dyes and medications have been well documented. Michael Sheehan, MD, Dermatology Physicians, provided an updated on emerging contact allergens, which include dimethyl fumarate, which are found in dessicants and anti-mold sachets, and acrylates, which are used in gel nails, diapers, dentures and sanitary pads.
 
 
In today’s political climate, there’s no doubt that people are more sensitive than ever. But before consumers start tossing out their detergent with the the laundry liquor, they should rule out as many irritant sources as possible.
 
 
 
 
 

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