Laundry Detergent & Your Skin: The Chemical Cocktail

Think about it, you spend most of your daily life wearing clothes. I know this sounds completely obvious, but what many don’t realize is the profound impact your choice of laundry detergent can have on the health of your skin.

See, your skin is an incredible organ — and your largest organ.

It’s designed to protect you from the germs, bacteria, and chemicals around us. It provides a barrier against temperature changes, contains hundreds of arteries and nerves, and it warns us of hot and cold and allows us to feel the sensation of touch. Your skin is responsible for and contributes to dozens of vital bodily functions, including detoxification.

sleeping babyIt’s also a sponge. It absorbs Vitamin D through sunlight. It takes in nutrients through essential oils, balms, and salves. In fact, your skin can absorb up to 60% of what comes into contact with it. (This percentage is higher in sensitive areas, such as the genitals and armpits.)

So, when chemical-laden clothing touches your skin, guess what happens? As the largest organ of elimination and absorption, what goes on the skin goes in the body.

When chemicals and toxins are drawn in through your skin, they enter the lymphatic system, where they are passed to the bloodstream and taken through the rest of your body before arriving at their final destination of the liver and kidneys.

Chemicals in Laundry Detergent

Practically any laundry detergent that you grab off of a supermarket shelf is loaded with chemicals (unless you’re reaching for a natural laundry detergent at a local organic co-op). And not just any old chemicals — but harsh, damaging, and potentially life-threatening chemicals. The list is long, but we’ll address a few of the worst offenders.

Endocrine Disruptors

Your endocrine system produces and regulates various hormones within your body, such as the thyroid, pineal, pituitary, ovaries and testes, pancreas, and adrenals — just to name a few.

An endocrine disruptor is any compound or substance that affects the normal operation of this system.

Chemicals that are endocrine disruptors can impact any and every aspect of your health, from fertility issues and immune system suppression, to mood disorders such as depression and fatigue. One of the most common endocrine disruptors found in laundry detergents are NPEs.

NPE, or Nonylphenol Ethoxylate, is known as the ‘Gender Bender’. This inexpensive nonionic surfactant mimics estrogen in your body, leading to hormonal imbalance and, for some, cancer.

When this chemical is absorbed into your skin, kidney damage, liver damage, decreased testicular growth and sperm count, disrupted growth, and lowered metabolism can result.

A particularly disturbing side effect of NPEs in our water supply is that some fish respond by becoming part male and part female. A U.S. Geological Survey study found metabolites of NPEs in more than 61 percent of tested streams in the U.S. NPEs have been banned in Canada and Europe, and even Walmart has listed NPEs as one of three chemicals they’re requesting their supplier’s phase out of use.

1-4 Dioxane

Dioxane (not dioxin) is a byproduct of the industrial process used to make cleaning ingredients, and contaminates most personal care and cleaning products — laundry detergent included.

Rather than being added intentionally, however, it’s actually a byproduct of SLS and the process of ethoxylation, which involves combining low-sudsing ingredients with ethylene oxide (a known human carcinogen) to produce more suds in the wash.

Because this is a byproduct rather than an actual ingredient, it is not required to be listed on product labels, despite being an identifiable chemical within the product. This chemical causes cancer and has been identified as potentially toxic to the brain, central nervous systems, respiratory systems, and organs including the kidneys and the liver.

Note: organic laundry detergents and toxin-free laundry detergents will not contain dioxane, because the chemical components required to create this byproduct will not be present.

More Scary Laundry List Ingredients

But we’ve barely scratched the surface. Besides SLS, NPEs, and dioxane, there’s a looooong list of other chemicals that are damaging to your health and our planet. Any of these can be potentially absorbed through your skin by the chemical residue left on your clothing, or absorbed through your respiratory system.

And don’t forget that we’re also washing these chemicals into our waterways, and in so doing, contaminating our food and water supply as well. Any and all of the chemicals listed below can be linked to bacterial mutations, allergic reactions, toxicity throughout the body, cancer, and damage to aquatic life.

  • Phosphates
  • Linear alkyl sodium sulfonates (LAS), a.k.a. anionic surfactants
  • Petroleum distillates (a.k.a. naphthas)
  • Phenols
  • Optical brighteners
  • Sodium hypochlorite (bleach)
  • EDTA (ethylene-diamino-tetra-acetate)
  • Artificial fragrances

~ ~ ~

The residue of these chemicals will be leached into your body through your skin. As we’ve said, your skin is a sponge, soaking up a significant percentage of what it comes into contact with. From there, the chemicals are distributed throughout your body.

But if you’re thinking what we think you’re thinking, you’re telling yourself something like this:

“Okay, fine. But seriously — my clothes don’t have any residues on them, so the chemicals left in the clothing MUST be minimal.”


Laundry Detergent Residue

With the exception of toxin-free laundry detergents, most laundry detergents are actually designed to leave a slight residue on your clothing. And even those that are not specifically designed to will leave some amount of chemical residue on your clothing.

The reasons your laundry detergent manufacturers are intentionally leaving residue on your clothing is because they want to manipulate consumers’ idea of what counts as ‘clean’.

The Smell

mom & daughter smelling laundryMany people base their idea of ‘clean clothing’ off of how it smells. If you’re sniffing a t-shirt left on the floor of your son’s bedroom to see if it’s been worn, that’s one thing. But if you’re basing your idea of ‘fresh from the dryer’ off of scent, you’re being fooled.

The American population is addicted to toxic chemical fragrances.

It’s how we establish an idea of ‘clean’. Most perfumes and fragrances are water soluble, which means that they would just rinse away during washing. So, manufacturers needed to add something that would leave a residue on the fabric to which the fragrances could adhere — a surfactant.

So, when you smell the ‘clean’ scent of clothing hot from the dryer or newly pulled from the closet, know that chemicals are the cause behind it.

The Look

Optical brighteners are chemicals added to laundry detergent to make clothing appear whiter and brighter (and in our minds, therefore cleaner). This is achieved through a modern-day version of ‘bluing’. Essentially, chemicals in the detergent leave a subtle blue haze of residue on your fabrics, tricking your eyes into seeing clean, bright whites instead of the slight yellowing that we associate with dirt buildup.

Here are some commonly seen names in ingredient lists:

  • Optical Brightening Agents (OBAs)
  • Optical Whiteners
  • Fluorescent Brightening Agents
  • Fluorescent Brighteners
  • Fluorescent Optical Brighteners
  • Fluorescent Whitening Agents (FWAs)
  • Fluorescent White Dyes
  • Organic Fluorescent Dyes

The Feel

Fabric softeners and other products designed to reduce static in clothing achieve this through the use of a chemical film left on the fibers of the fabrics. Chemicals like chloroform, camphor, A-Terpineol, Dimethicone, Dioxanes and more are to blame. These ‘softeners’ might make your towels feel fluffy, but they are actually harmful to your body and the environment — so not so ‘fresh’ after all.

Choosing The Best All Natural Laundry Detergents

Chances are if you can’t read the ingredient list without sounding like you’re speaking gibberish, or you see uninformative, nonsensical ingredients like, ‘fragrance’, your laundry detergent is full of chemicals. And, if you choose to use that detergent, those chemicals are going right into your body. So, put that bottle right back down and keep moving!

There are natural alternatives to these chemical-laden laundry cocktails!

And this is exactly why Molly’s Suds got started — to create an all natural laundry detergent that protects our families and our bodies from harsh chemicals without sacrificing clean. Molly’s Suds toxin free laundry detergents are completely safe for those with chemical sensitivities, babies, and, well, anyone and everyone!

baby in a towel with momIn a world of such complexity and so many decisions to be made, at least this one is simple.

Be sure to check out our DIY page for natural alternatives to many household cleaners – we update it often! You can also join us in the fold by subscribing to our newsletter to get notified when new DIY’s are published, new products are released, sales on Molly’s Suds products, and more!

Blog Contributed By Apple Wellness