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


Enzymes were incorporated into fabric washing products to assist in stain removal, but have attained an increasing importance due to their biodegradability and because they can function at low washing temperatures, thus offering environmental benefits. These matters appear to contrast, at least in the minds of some, with perceived risks to human health, notably concerning adverse skin effects such as allergy and irritation. Despite the very clear recognition of the potential risks associated with occupational exposure, an authoritative German review concluded over 20 years ago that 'biodetergents in particular present no increased risk of skin damage for the user'.[44] The weight of evidence is now convincing that consumer use of enzyme-containing laundry detergent products does not pose any greater risk of skin irritation than that of their 'nonbiological' variants, that the potential for respiratory allergy has been successfully controlled by limiting exposure and that there is no evidence for enzymes leading to contact dermatitis (allergic or irritant) or immunological urticaria from their use. The consequence of this is that healthcare professionals should, in our view, avoid explaining rashes, on adults, children or infants, as due to use of enzyme-containing laundry products. Rather, they should seek more carefully for the true causation of an eczema in order to come to a correct diagnosis.

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