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Baby Laundry Detergent for Sensitive Skin: Dermatologist Advice on Infant Skincare

May 7, 2022

Are baby laundry detergents necessary? What type of laundry detergent should I use for baby’s clothes? Is a specially formulated baby laundry detergent recommended? If these are your questions, read these dermatologist tips on how laundry detergents matter. 

Dermatologist's Baby Skincare Guide
This series on caring for your baby’s skin is  by dermatologist at TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre, Dr. Teo Wan Lin. Her e-book, Dermatologist’s Baby Skincare Guide is available for free for a limited time on the Dr.TWL Pharmacy e-shop and on Amazon Kindle.

What is in a commercial laundry detergent?

What type of detergent should I use? Liquid, powder, detergent pods or detergent strips? 

Powder detergent pros and cons

It may feel like it does not matter what type of detergent you use. After all, laundry detergents are just detergents right? Well, according to Dr. Teo, no. Powders are probably the worst to have around if you have sensitive airways and allergies. The fine particles containing concentrated detergent can be hazardous if inhaled. Most individuals with sensitivities, eczema, allergic rhinitis and asthma react badly to exposure. If you have children and pets, these can accidentally be ingested and are highly toxic. It is difficult to control the spread of these particles when scooping out the detergent.

Liquid detergent benefits and disadvantages

Liquid detergent is safer in this regard. However, it is very heavy, less efficient in terms of storage space and can still be spilled accidentally. The packaging waste is also significant. These are stored in plastic bottles which contributes to landfill plastic waste. Definitely not an eco-friendly option.

Detergent pods: the best option?

Detergent pods are gaining in popularity. Laundry detergent pods are compact packets of powder or liquid detergent compressed and coated with a dissolvable plastic. It definitely overcomes the issues mentioned above with powder and liquid detergents. It seems like an environmentally friendly option, with minimal packaging. Most of all,  it is convenient, no measuring or scooping detergent. Simply toss in the laundry detergent pod and press start. 

However, Dr Teo cautions that the ingredients in these detergent pods have not changed. They may claim to contain more eco friendly ingredients, but always be suspicious if there is a strong fragrance. Based on current laws, detergent makers are not required to register their product with the authorities. Unlike cosmetics, detergent ingredients are not regulated. Manufacturers then will choose the strongest chemical agents, such as industrial strength solvents to achieve high efficiency cleansing. Synthetic fragrances are added to achieve fragranced linen. After all fresh smelling, clean and bright laundry is the goal right?

Again, this is based on our current assumption that all these residues are completely washed out. However, chemical engineers agree that the process of laundry, will not achieve this. As these particles are very small, it will be trapped in the weave of fabrics even in a regular laundry cycle.

What is the environmental impact of commercial laundry detergent use?

It is also shortsighted to imagine that the runoff into our sewage pipes will be contained somewhere without release into the environment. Eventually it will all make it back to the environment where it will harm our food sources. Therefore there is a standard that measures how readily biodegradable a chemical is, to measure its impact on the environment. The OECD 310D guideline for testing of chemicals determines how eco-friendly a chemical is. Almost all commercially available traditional detergents will not meet this standard. 

What is the impact of laundry detergent chemicals on our health and skin?

The current impact is unknown. However, if we apply the same rules of cosmetic ingredient analysis, then laundry detergent formulations are worrying. These mostly all demonstrate carcinogenicity and toxicity (in high doses) when assessed by MSDS data. MSDS refers to Materials and Safety Data Sheet, the industry standard for occupational skin health.

Contact dermatitis is a dermatological condition related to irritation caused by direct contact with a chemical agent. It can be irritant contact dermatitis, which is due to the irritation potential of the ingredient causing a mild chemical burn. Imagine irritant contact dermatitis as a condition where the chemical dissolves away the top layer of protection of your skin.

Allergic contact dermatitis is another type of allergic reaction. This has nothing to do with the irritation potential where it simply produces a caustic reaction. Rather, it depends on the individual. If the individual is sensitive to the ingredient, it will trigger off a series of allergic reactions. This is mediated by the immune system. It could be due to previous exposure, where it didn’t cause a reaction. Such an exposure works by stimulating the immune memory. The second exposure to the allergen then causes a full blown allergic reaction.

Why should I care that my laundry detergent is gentle on my skin? Isn’t it washed out by the washing machine at the end of the cycle?

Contact dermatitis to detergents? An urban myth? This was stated in a commentary in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in 2003 [1]. However, more research in the recent decade has demonstrated that textiles do carry residues that can trigger off immunological memory and lead to potential allergic reactions [2, 3]. 

Advances in detergent formulations

Organic, green, plant-based laundry detergents are some of the eco friendly options marketed. Notably, enzyme based formulations are marketed as the better ways to clean a fabric. Safer for skin, and better for the environment. Is that so? According to Heidi Bai and colleagues in the peer reviewed dermatology journal – Dermatitis in 2020, contact allergens in top selling textile care products are prevalent [3]. 

According to Singapore dermatologist Dr. Teo Wan Lin, this paper stated some alarming findings. Laundry detergents labelled as baby safe, gentle, contained common allergens. Such as methylisothiazolinone, the most prevalent contact allergen found in personal care products. The difficulty for dermatologists in distinguishing mild detergents in commercial detergents is this. There is no ingredient list for many, other than detergents  marketed as being dye or fragrance free. However, this does not change the fact that these contain the top allergens found that cause skin allergies. 

How about enzyme based cleaning products? Are these safer and gentler on skin?

Also, there is evidence that transcutaneous sensitisation occurs through skin. This means that exposure to these enzyme proteins create an immune memory. Household cleaning products that contain these proteins are the main cause of exposure. The skin immune system is linked to the overall body immune system.  

“The skin plays a role in the development of IgE mediated allergies. To date the current opinion is that enzyme proteins should not cause allergic contact dermatitis. However, dermatologists should be concerned about whether topical exposure to enzymes used widely in consumer cleaning products could result in allergic sensitisation. This is an area that requires further research,” comments Dr Teo, based on the latest research on textile dermatitis. 

How laundry detergent affects skin of newborn babies?

Newborn skin is much more sensitive than that of an older child or an adult. Regular liquid detergents in theory can be used for baby laundry. However, there is a concern about harsh chemicals used in commercial laundry detergents. These detergents are tested by makers to to tough on stains, the standard that measures effectiveness of the detergent. Consumers want their clothes looking bright and clean, laundry smelling fresh.

Thus optical brighteners and other chemical additives, including fragrances are added in these formulas. Theoretically, these should be washed out by the washing machine. However, these additives undoubtedly leave a residue on fabrics. This is even after washing it thoroughly in a washing machine. Especially for fragrances as it is desired to freshen the laundry.

For this reason, many experts including dermatologists recommend using a very gentle detergent for laundering baby’s clothes. That reason is because the fragrances and chemical residues can penetrate the delicate skin barrier. The best baby laundry detergents are often made of surfactants which are gentler in nature but nevertheless can still get rid of stains. For cloth diapers as well, it is important to use one that can effectively freshen up the fabric. A baby laundry detergent safe for newborns is dye free, fragrance free. Preferably one that is specially formulated for newborns is unlikely to irritate baby’s skin.

What is the best baby laundry detergent made of? 

The Dr.TWL Pharmacy laundry detergent sheet specially formulated for babies and those with sensitive skin as well as eczema. It is a revolutionary laundry detergent sheet based on all natural surfactant known as soapwort. It is derived from the plant soapwort. The baby laundry detergent sheet is a detergent that is not just ecologically friendly, but gentle on baby’s skin. It comes packed in a 100% biodegradable kraft paper packet with zero plastic packaging. The benefit of laundry detergent sheets over traditional laundry detergent is there is no more measuring. No risk of accidental spills. Simply tear along the dotted line and toss in a full load of laundry.

Baby Laundry Detergent for Sensitive Skin
Baby Laundry Detergent Sheets – Dermatologist-recommended for baby’s clothes. Suitable for whole family laundry care for eczema, sensitive skin patients. Uses natural coconut and plant extract Soapwort as effective, skin-friendly detergent. 

Baby laundry detergents dermatologist recommended 

Baby laundry detergents should not contain additives that can potentially penetrate the skin barrier. In fact, it’s not just dyes and fragrances. Many other additives such as industrial solvents, optical brighteners leave a microscopic residue in fabrics after being washed. As newborn’s skin barrier is not fully developed, there is a risk that it can inadvertently penetrate the skin barrier. Besides, a newborn’s skin is more sensitive to harsh surfactants present in regular detergents. If there is a family history of eczema, definitely avoid using regular detergents for baby’s laundry.

Baby Laundry Detergent for Sensitive Skin
Each Hypoallergenic Laundry Detergent Strip encapsulates dermatologist-approved potent plant-based ingredients for effective cleansing that is effective on fabrics and gentle on skin.

I suffer from sensitive skin. Should I switch out my laundry detergent? 

Dermatology research suggests that textile related contact dermatitis can cause skin allergies. Chemical residues on textiles due to laundry agents is an overlooked cause of worsening eczema too. Eczema and sensitive skin is treated with both medical and lifestyle interventions. Medical treatment includes dermatologist recommended ceramide dominant moisturisers and topical steroids for more severe cases. Lifestyle interventions include omitting all possible contactants. Such as strong lathering soaps and detergents. Commercial laundry detergents  that contain common contact allergens have been reported as a trigger for contact dermatitis in susceptible individuals. 

Ingredient analysis of the Hypoallergenic Baby Laundry Detergent by Dr.TWL Pharmacy 

Baby Laundry Detergent for Sensitive Skin
The Baby Laundry Detergent Sheets are Hypoallergenic, Dermatologist-tested and approved.

The list of ingredients in a specially formulated baby laundry detergent strips by Dr.TWL Pharmacy are as below. Here’s how to check the safety and data of all ingredients of your household cleaning agents. Key in the ingredient at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Ingredient Database. Hazard ratings within the EWG Database are shown as low, moderate, or high concern categories, with numeric rankings spanning those categories that range from 1 (low concern) to 10 (high concern).

Source of undermentioned Ingredient Hazard Rating Excerpt: EWG Skin Deep® Database

Baby Laundry Detergent: Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate
Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate: An ultra gentle surfactant derived from coconuts. A natural lathering agent.
Baby Laundry Detergent: Poly Vinyl Alcohol
Polyvinyl Alcohol: A waterproof coating safe for the environment that protects your hands from the detergent.
Baby Laundry Detergent: Cocamidopropyl Betaine
Cocamiddopropyl Betaine: A creamy thickening agent from coconuts that is used in personal care products including shampoos. Produces a rich creamy lather. Gentle on hands and skin.
Baby Laundry Detergent: Glycerin
Glycerin: A moisturising ingredient that traps moisture under the skin.
Baby Laundry Detergent: Saponins
Soap Nut Extract (Saponins): A novel 100% plant derived soap agent, from the plant soap wort. Thoroughly removes stains and dirt, gentle on skin and fabrics. Perfect for babies and those with sensitive skin.
Baby Laundry Detergent: Chamomile Essential Oil
Chamomile Essential Oil: A skin-calming non-irritating essential oil derived from chamomile flowers for refreshing fabrics, allergen-free .

References

  1. Rockoff AS. Detergent allergies: an urban legend. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2003 Jul;49(1):161. doi: 10.1067/mjd.2003.189. PMID: 12833037.
  2. Cotton CH, Duah CG, Matiz C. Allergic Contact Dermatitis Due to Methylisothiazolinone in a Young Girl’s Laundry Detergent. Pediatr Dermatol. 2017 Jul;34(4):486-487. doi: 10.1111/pde.13122. Epub 2017 May 19. PMID: 28523864.
  3. Bai H, Tam I, Yu J. Contact Allergens in Top-Selling Textile-care Products. Dermatitis. 2020 Jan/Feb;31(1):53-58. doi: 10.1097/DER.0000000000000566. PMID: 31905182.
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