Rubbing You the Wrong Way: Laundry Detergent Linked to Allergic Disorders

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Your laundry detergent could be worsening your seasonal allergy symptoms or even promoting new ones. Recent concerning research in rodents suggests this household staple may foster the development of allergies

Laundry detergent serves as the ultimate frenemy - crucial for cleanliness yet loaded with skin-irritating ingredients like fragrances and enzymes.1 Still, few would guess this wash-day necessity might actually stimulate allergies. But intriguing new research investigating ingredients frequently used in leading laundry detergent brands like Tide uncovered precisely that in mice.2 The findings demonstrate these rodents develop pathologic skin and respiratory allergies when exposed to laundry detergent chemicals alongside allergens.  

By damaging the super-thin outer barrier shielding organisms from external insults like microbes, allergens, and toxins, laundry detergent likely allows allergic sensitization, researchers posit.2 They focused specifically on enzymes called proteases added to break down clothing stains. Mimicking real-world conditions, investigators incubated skin biopsies from normal adult and baby mice with commercial laundry detergent at physiology-relevant temperatures overnight.2 Micrographs revealed destroyed cellular architecture resembling human atopic dermatitis, an inflammatory skin condition often preceding food and respiratory allergies.3 Additional experiments confirmed laundry detergent or protease exposure provoked release of inflammation-inciting cytokines IL-33 and TSLP from damaged skin.2

Researchers extended these cell study findings in living mice, showing laundry detergent plus allergen exposure indeed yielded hallmark features of dermatitis and abnormal immune reactions in neonatal animals.2 Specifically, two-week old mice underwent tape stripping to gently disturb skin then received laundry detergent followed by ovalbumin or a saline control.2 Laundry detergent plus ovalbumin increased transepidermal water loss, indicating weakened skin barrier integrity. Microscopic examination found increased immune cells implicated in allergy called eosinophils infiltrating treated back skin.2 Moreover, compared to saline or allergen alone, the combination provoked greater rises in characteristic allergic skin cytokines like IL-4 and IL-13.2  

Most strikingly, mice exposed cutaneously to both laundry detergent and allergen developed significant eosinophil accumulation in the esophagus upon subsequent airway allergen challenges - eerily resembling patterns in human eosinophilic esophagitis.2 Further, spleen cell secretion of allergen-specific antibodies IgG1 and IgE was enhanced.2 Thus, it appears laundry detergent-mediated skin barrier disruption promotes not only local allergic dermatitis but also distant esophageal and systemic hypersensitivity.

By identifying laundry detergent exposure as a possible contributor to rising allergies resembling human atopic and eosinophilic disorders, this investigation rings alarm bells about common household products. Additional clinical and epidemiological research should scrutinize whether laundry detergent also threatens human skin integrity and predisposes to allergies as concerningly as in mice. If corroborated in human studies, simple public health interventions like minimizing skin contact with laundry chemicals and rinsing detergent residues may curb this worrying trend. Better yet, opting for natural detergents without the use of noxious chemicals would be better for both human health and the environment.


References

1. de Groot AC, White IR, Flyvholm MA, Lensen G, Coenraads PJ. Formaldehyde-releasers in cosmetics: relationship to formaldehyde contact allergy. Contact Dermatitis. 2010;62(1):2-17.

2. Tanzer J, Meng D, Ohsaki A, Caldwell JM, Mingler MK, Rothenberg ME, Oyoshi MK. Laundry detergent promotes allergic skin inflammation and esophageal eosinophilia in mice. PLoS One. 2022;17(6):e0268651.

3. Oyoshi MK, He R, Kumar L, Yoon J, Geha RS. Cellular and molecular mechanisms in atopic dermatitis. Adv Immunol. 2009;102:135-226.

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