Learn how to use detergents while keeping your skin safe
Detergents and cleaning agents are our hard-working helpers. They rise to the challenge when the dishes pile up, the laundry basket overflows and bathroom tiles collect mildew. They help remove the unwanted grease and grime, and bring in the sparkle, the shine and the squeaky clean.
They're smart and hazardous too. When used for dish-washing, they are tasked with removing residue, getting off the grease and disinfecting. In order to perform these superhero tasks efficiently, they are formulated with surfactants, and powered with enzymes, bleaches, perfumes and more. So why are they hazardous?
Detergents meet skin. And that's not always beautiful.
Skin is the body's first line of defense against harmful chemicals and pollutants. So it also faces the onslaught of detergents, soaps, chlorine and other cleaning products.
They strip hands of moisture
Whilst great for their assigned task, the chemicals in detergents are not kind to the skin that come into contact with them. They strip them off moisture and natural oils.
The sebaceous glands in the skin, routinely secrete sebum. This mixes with sweat, which contain lactic and amino acids, to create a thin, natural protective shield. Known as the acid mantle, this shield is designed to maintain the pH balance of the skin. (The pH level of the skin is a measure of how acidic or alkaline the skin is, and ideally skin needs to be slightly acidic to protect itself). As it happens, everything that the skin comes into contact with affects the acid mantle. Even air, water and sunlight. At the correct pH level, the acid mantle does a great job as a protective layer, keeping germs out and moisture in.
However, detergents designed to remove grease off dishes, don't just strip the skin of oils, making it rough, dry and itchy and they disturb the pH balance.
They remove the good bacteria on hands
Our bodies also have another protective system- good bacteria which help to keep harmful bacteria under control. Triclosan, present in detergents and meant to kill bacteria, cannot discriminate between good protective bacteria on hands and those in the dishes, so they indiscriminately kill all living micro-organisms. This impairs the body's natural disease-fighting ability and opens the possibility of getting afflicted by a whole range of bacteria, some of which could be resistant to antibiotics.
They may cause Dishpan Hands:
That's what happens to hands that wash dishes or clothes regularly. When detergents or chlorine make contact with the hands and cause irritation and inflammation, the condition is known as dishpan hands or irritant contact dermatitis.
Sometimes it triggers an immune reaction causing Allergic Contact Dermatitis. And in cases of existing conditions like eczema, psoriasis, hand fungus or ringworm, exposure to detergents only exacerbates the situation.\
They may damage nails:
It's not just the skin but also the nails which bear the brunt of the chores. Nails when exposed to water for a long time get soft, translucent and break easily. And the detergent worsens the situation by making nails rough, brittle and dull.
Chemicals get absorbed by skin. And that could be damaging.
Skin is efficient at transferring chemicals from the surface to the rest of the body via the bloodstream. It is this ability that is used to deliver drugs via skin patches. But it is also this same characteristic that makes it susceptible to harmful effects of any unwanted exposure.
They may cause allergic reactions:
In some cases, the dyes and fragrances which are used to impart a fresh look and fragrance, could trigger an allergic reaction. Medical attention should be sought if that happens. And the detergent should be changed immediately.
Speaking of chemicals, spot the hidden hazard.
While water depletes the natural oils in the skin, the addition of chlorine intensifies the resulting moisture loss - speeding up the ageing process, rather like prolonged exposure to sunlight does.
Chlorine has long been the ally of cleanliness. Used to purify water by killing waterborne pathogens, it is often present in tap water which is then used for drinking, bathing, swimming and washing. But, in addition to killing the harmful bacteria, chlorine also kills good bacteria which protect the skin.
Protection is primary
As a senior dermatologist at Kaya Skin Clinic, Dr. Mansi points out “More and more data is now available on cases of detergents and chlorine having bad effects. It doesn't seem like a good idea any more. Chlorine in cleaning solutions is a very concentrated product. This has given rise to some dramatic skin issues because mixing bleach with other cleaning agents releases chlorine gas which is quite simply harmful.”
Some chores cannot be avoided. Fortunately, with some protection the ill-effects of any harmful chemicals can be minimized.
In order to keep hands and nails safe, wear rubber or vinyl gloves that keep the hands dry. Ensure that no water trickles in.
…Preferably heavy-duty elbow length:
When handling strong detergents, bathroom cleaners or bleaches, wear heavy-duty gloves to keep any chemicals from making its way in through the gloves. Elbow-length waterproof gloves ensure that no water trickles in, making them more suitable for heavy work.
Clean. Dry. Discard.
Ensure that the gloves are cleaned regularly and dried properly. Damp gloves can breed bacteria and cause fungal infections and itchiness.
Discard gloves immediately if they develop a tear or a hole.
When working for prolonged periods of time, wear cotton gloves inside rubber gloves. This prevents sweating and itchiness.
The sooner the chore of washing up is completed, the less the exposure to harmful chemicals. So go faster. Finish off with that chore as soon as possible.
Wash hands clean with a gentle moisturizing hand-wash liquid and dry well. Pat dry.
Moisturize as soon as the hands are washed and dried. Pay special attention to the back of the hands where the skin is thin. Do give yourself a light massage when doing so. And don't neglect to pay attention to those nails as well.
So go ahead and protect yourself wisely. Do those chores securely, with a smile.