Common Skin Irritants You Might Be Exposed to at Home
Common household items that may be irritating your skin
Edited By:Raja Sivamani , MD, MS, AP
Skin irritation can come in many forms from mild redness, frustrating swelling, stinging sensations, or even itching to a severe case of blisters or sores. Your skin is your body's largest organ and its primary layer of defense, so it often takes the first hit against irritants that surround the world around you.
Dermatitis is the term used to describe a wide range of skin inflammation. Contact dermatitis is a result of your skin's contact with some external irritant.
Many of the products that keep our homes clean and germ-free can be rough on the skin. Because you come in contact with so many things on a daily basis, it's sometimes hard to discover if a household product is the cause of a rash or itch. Here are some things lying around your home that are common skin irritants from cleansing products and a few ways to protect your skin:
Soaps can irritate the skin in several ways. Soap can cause an allergic response due to the fragrance or dye added to it. It is even possible to suddenly develop an allergy even after you have been using a soap for many years.
Excessive hand washing strips the skin of its natural oils needed to keep your skin soft and elastic. This causes dry, chapped skin that can actually crack and bleed if left untreated.
If you suspect your soap is drying out your skin or making you itch, consider choosing a different body cleanser such as a mild cleansing product that is gentler on the skin.
Most household cleaning products contain chemicals that irritate or even damage your skin. Listed below are some of the cleaners you may have around the house and their ingredients:
All Purpose Cleaners and Disinfectants
All-purpose cleaners and disinfectants can include ammonia, trisodium phosphate (TSP), sodium hypochlorite, and other hazardous chemicals designed to break up grease and remove stains from porous surfaces. While limited skin exposure to these chemicals may not cause harm, prolonged exposure can dry and break down the surface of your skin.
Window and Glass Cleaners
Window and glass cleaners typically include ammonia and isopropanol. These ingredients not only irritate the skin but can also irritate your eyes and nasal passages and should be used in a well-ventilated area.
Dishwashing detergents can leave your hands dry and flaky with significant use but usually aren't harmful to the skin. More concentrated detergents used in automatic dishwashers are more harmful and can cause your skin to burn and itch.
Toilet cleaners, mold, and mildew removers contain hypochlorous acid, phenol, and sodium bisulfate that are highly caustic and cause dangerous fumes. Chemical drain cleaners are highly corrosive and have the potential to injure the eyes, lungs, and skin. These substances are highly corrosive and cause a chemical burn when they come in contact with the skin.
The main ingredients in drain cleaners include lye, hydrochloric acid, and potassium hydroxide, which are highly caustic and cause dangerous fumes. These substances are highly corrosive and cause a chemical burn when they come in contact with the skin.
Clothing itself can be a skin irritant for many reasons:
- Abrasive fabrics
- Allergic responses to dyes metal fasteners or chemical additives
- Scratching from tags, fasteners, and seams
- Chafing from frequent movement against the fabrics
- Bacterial infections from fabric that does not allow the skin to breathe or dry quickly
Rough fabrics such as wool can be especially problematic for individuals who suffer from a skin disorder called atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema.
If you suspect that your clothing fabric is causing itching, irritation or a rash, replacing them with cotton and cotton-poly fabrics is usually a safe option.
Clothing Detergent and Fabric Dryer Sheets
Remnants of laundry detergent and fabric softeners can linger on your clothes after you wash them. Laundry detergent ingredients that can irritate your skin include:
- Surfactants that dissolve in water and "lift" dirt and oils from the laundry could give you dry itchy skin if your clothes are not thoroughly rinsed
- Builders that soften hard (mineral-rich) water
- Chlorine bleach that removes color from fabrics while also disinfecting and deodorizing the laundry
- Fragrance that masks the chemical smell of the detergent but can produce itching and rash for people with sensitive skin
Builders and bleaches are usually rinsed away in the wash; however, surfactants that are low in toxicity could still give you dry, itchy skin if your clothes are not thoroughly rinsed.
Dyes and fragrances in detergents and fabric softener can produce itching and rash for people with sensitive skin or specific dye or fragrance allergies.
Rashes that occur in places that are covered by clothing while not where clothing is worn is a good indication that your laundry detergent is the cause of your irritated skin. Instead, consider using fragrance-free and dye-free detergents and fabric softeners.
Some people are hypersensitive to latex, a natural rubber found in everything from gloves to condoms. If you are sensitive to latex, you may experience welts under a bra strap or elastic waistband that contain this material.
Pay special attention to the temperature of your household thermostat and use air conditioning and fans when necessary. If you live in a hot and humid environment, you may have experienced miliaria, commonly known as heat rash. Heat rash is an outbreak of blisters or red lumps in the skin resulting from excessive sweating. The bumps are created when sweat ducts get blocked and trap perspiration under your skin.
Heat rash usually clears up on its own but can be relieved by cooling your skin and moving to a place where you won't continue to sweat. Even with prevention, some people such as newborns and those taking certain medications are more prone to heat rash than others.
Any time your body overheats or lacks sufficient exposure to sweat normally, heat rash may be a risk. This includes using heavy ointments or creams or being confined to a bed for long periods.
Lotions, deodorants, acne treatments and other products can cause skin irritation if you have an allergic reaction to the chemicals, or if the chemicals break down into potentially irritating substances.
Cosmetics can contain strong active ingredients, like alpha-hydroxy acids, that can irritate the skin if they are not paired with proper use or if they are used on sensitive skin. Additives such as colors, fragrances, and preservatives can also cause allergic reactions. When makeup is exposed to high temperatures and humidity, bacteria can grow and spread if you use your fingers and reusable applicator from the bottle.
Test each new cosmetic product carefully and use it as directed. Follow instructions on the label for proper storage and manufacturer-recommended shelf-life. Discontinue using any product if you have skin irritations or other adverse reactions. Also, keep makeup applicators clean with soap and hot water to remove bacteria.
Bug repellent lotions and sprays usually contain N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET) and other chemicals are known to be effective at preventing bites from several types of insects. Although DEET does not present a health concern for most people, use bug repellant sparingly, wash it off thoroughly when you return indoors, and discontinue use if you have any adverse reactions.
Long sleeves and trousers are your skin's best protection against bugs. You can even apply the repellent to the clothing for an extra layer of defense. If you spend a significant amount of time outdoors, you can even consider special insect-repellent clothing.
Alternatives to DEET include repellents made with citronella or lemon eucalyptus.
Facial skin with its deep pores is very easily breached. Check the labels for some common irritants which include alpha hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid, malic acid, and lactic acid. Be extra cautious with your creams and skin care products if you experience stinging or burning when applied. These products may include wrinkle creams, cleansers, and skin peels.
Nickel is a common allergy. It can be found in costume jewelry, watchbands, zippers, and other everyday items. Some individuals with severe allergies can have reactions to vitamins and skin-lightening creams.
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