Potential body reactions to fabric softeners

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Fabric softeners might trigger certain reactions in some individuals. This product is added to laundry during the rinse cycle to soften clothes and lessen static cling. A thin coating of the softener is left on the fabric once the completion of the wash cycle.

Fabric softeners usually include a variety of chemicals where some can irritate the skin of highly sensitive individuals. Infants, young children, older adults and individuals with eczema or other skin issues are prone to reactions due to the increased sensitivity of the skin.

Close look on contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a skin reaction triggered by direct exposure to an irritant. It is categorized as allergic and irritant.

In most cases, itchiness is the most prominent and annoying symptom.

The irritant type is common and can be triggered by the dyes, perfumes, preservatives and other chemicals in fabric softeners. The triggering substances can irritate and inflame the skin but does not cause an allergic reaction. As for the allergic type, one or several specific chemicals in the product triggers a skin reaction.

What are the indications?

The indications of both irritant and allergic contact dermatitis are almost identical, especially in cases of low-level exposure that occurs with fabric softeners.

In most cases, itchiness is the most prominent and annoying symptom. Any part of the skin that was exposed to clothing or linens that were rinsed in the product can be affected. Site of friction amidst the skin and clothing such as the wrists, waist, armpits, neck and groin are typically involved since friction allows chemical penetration into the skin.

A reddish or pinkish rash is also common that can be accompanied by a mild stinging sensation or discomfort. Hives is also likely to develop. If the exposure is continued, the skin might appear scale-like.

Management of reactions to fabric softeners

The doctor might suggest a patch test to differentiate between irritant or allergic contact dermatitis. An over-the-counter antihistamine might be given to lessen to itchiness. It is also recommended to use hydrocortisone for a short span of time if the rash is bothersome.

Avoidance of the offending product is the main objective. If the fabric softener is the culprit for the skin reactions, all clothing and linens should be thoroughly washed to get rid of any leftover product.

Adding white vinegar or baking soda to the laundry during the rinse cycle can also help eliminate the fabric softener in the clothes.

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