Enzymes, Detergents and Skin: Facts and Fantasies

D.A. Basketter; J.S.C. English; S.H. Wakelin; I.R. White


The British Journal of Dermatology. 2008;158(6):1177-1181. 

In This Article


As enzymes are capable of triggering the formation of IgE antibodies, then as with other proteins (e.g. natural rubber latex proteins), skin contact with them could, in theory at least, give rise to the potential risk of immunological contact urticaria.[41] Consequently, this aspect of enzyme safety must be considered in relation to consumer exposures. Contact urticaria presents clinically as an immediate erythematous and oedematous skin reaction, arising within minutes of skin contact, peaking in 10-20min and usually subsiding after about 1h. In our experience, consumers do not report this type of response to enzyme-containing laundry powders and such reactions are not recorded in the literature as far as we are aware. Consistent with this absence of any clinical evidence for its occurrence in consumers is the general absence of reports of such an effect in sensitized workers. The original observations of enzymes as respiratory allergens described the situation where many (even a majority) of the workforce had antigen-specific IgE and a minority had respiratory symptoms.[4,5,6,42] A number of workers also experienced skin irritation due to the proteolytic nature of the enzyme and the relatively high exposure concentration. However, even in this situation, no immediate urticarial skin type reactions were reported. In a very recent review of over 30years' experience in the enzyme manufacturing industry with more than 1200 occupationally exposed individuals, of those sensitized only about 1% showed urticaria symptoms.[43] As the exposure doses are so much lower in consumers, where the enzyme has been encapsulated, and/or where it has been very substantially diluted in wash solutions, then it becomes unsurprising that skin contact urticaria to detergent enzymes seems not to occur.

From first principles, enzymes may have the potential to cause urticaria, but there is no evidence, both occupationally and in consumers, that this actually occurs in practice.


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