Skincare 101: How your detergent can affect your skin

8 minute read

When you’re in need of a little “me-time,”  a good skincare routine can be a perfect go-to. After all, who doesn’t love a nice sheet mask, a few cucumbers, and a moisturizer that makes your skin feel silky smooth? But when it comes to pampering your skin, there’s one thing that often doesn’t get the attention it deserves: your laundry detergent. 

Did you know laundry detergents leave residue behind on your clothing that can be readily absorbed by your skin? So if you’re wondering why your skin is irritated, dry, or itchy, you may want to check the ingredient list on the back of that detergent bottle. Harsh chemicals, synthetic fragrances, and optical brighteners are often the culprit.   

Your skin is the largest organ in the body. Let’s talk about how to give it the love it deserves.


What’s going on with my detergent?  

Like soap, detergents contain surfactants which work to loosen dirt and oil particles so they can be washed away. Some detergents use gentle surfactants – while others can use harsher ones that cause irritation to sensitive skin. Most natural, coconut-derived surfactants will have the word “coco” in the name, like “Sodium coco sulfate.” In terms of what to avoid, keep a watch out for ingredients that end in “eth” such as sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), ceteareth, or steareth. These are likely to contain 1,4-Dioxane, a known carcinogen and neurotoxin. 

Synthetic fragrances are another common irritant. They’re such a broad category of chemicals, and brands often use proprietary blends that make it difficult to track the exact ingredients. If you think fragrance might be the culprit, try using a scentless detergent, like our ECOS Hypoallergenic Free & Clear Laundry Detergent.

Other common irritants include chlorine bleach, formaldehyde-releasing preservatives and optical brighteners – but since there is no federal requirement for laundry detergents to list their ingredients, it can be extra difficult to pin down what’s causing your irritation. If you want more tips on how to spot these ingredients in your products, head to our page on “The Nasties for the full scoop. 

One thing to keep in mind is allergies to the ingredients listed above typically develop slowly over repeated use, so what works one day may not work the next. Once you develop the allergy though, it only takes a small amount to get a reaction. Why not just avoid it altogether? The best thing to do is be proactive, and wash your clothes with a clean, gentle detergent from the get-go. 

(Source: Healthline)


It’s time to start thinking of laundry care as skincare 

Your clothing serves many functions, but irritating your skin should never be one of them. That’s why we like to think of laundry care as another category of skincare, especially since chemical residue from your clothing can easily be absorbed by your skin. For example, conventional detergents can cause a condition called “contact dermatitis” –  a red, itchy rash caused by direct contact with a substance or an allergic reaction to it (Reference: Mayo Clinic). Other symptoms can include dry, cracked skin, bumps and blisters, and sometimes swelling or tenderness.

Healthy skin is an important barrier against infection. And while dermatitis causes no serious harm to your body, it’s often uncomfortable. Not to mention, a common dermatitis symptom like dry skin can cause premature fine lines and wrinkles. (Source: Mayo Clinic).

Perhaps the most serious issue though, is the effect laundry detergent can have on people with eczema, a chronic skin disorder characterized by dry, scaly, itchy skin. Since the 1970s, the incidence of atopic eczema has nearly tripled! (Source: EHS Today) While there’s no clear cause for why eczema has increased, many studies point to environmental changes, and it’s well-documented that irritants and allergens can trigger the immune system, causing an eczema flare-up. Eczema affects 6% of the US alone. So when you really start to break it down, thinking of laundry as skincare feels like a no-brainer. That’s why we recommend taking care of you and your loved one’s skin early and proactively with a hypoallergenic detergent.  


How to get laundry that’s a win for your skin 

If you’re already familiar with the symptoms we’ve been describing – don’t fret! There’s lots of things you can do to get your skin back on track. The most obvious one is switching to a dermatologist-tested laundry detergent like our Hypoallergenic Laundry Detergent with Enzymes.  Not only is it plant-powered, but it comes with stain-fighting enzymes that are tough on stains but soft on skin. All our laundry detergents use cleaners derived from plant oils for a powerful-yet-gentle clean. 

Our formulas also soften your clothing all on their own, so you can toss out those pesky dryer sheets that are known to cause irritation. And finally, It may seem odd to wash something that’s meant to clean, but washing machines can get a buildup of soap scum and irritating chemicals if not rinsed regularly. Try a hot water cycle with just baking soda and vinegar to rid your washer of any remaining allergens. Then your switch to a cleaner, hypoallergenic laundry soap will be complete. 

Well folks, we hope these tips round out your skincare routine and help your skin be its smoothest, softest self. And if you have any questions about the care we put into our plant-powered formulas, head to our Clean Chemistry page for more in-depth research, or feel free to reach out to us here