Not An Allergen…But A Strong Irritant
The main component of many disinfecting bleaches is sodium hypochlorite, which is not listed as a top contact allergen. However, it is a strong irritant that can cause chemical burns. Many bleaches contain other caustic ingredients which can also burn the skin by destroying its fatty tissue and oils. Specific to allergens: many disinfecting bleaches contain common contact allergens like fragrances and dyes.
That said, when pure (no added allergens), in low concentrations, and used very carefully, bleach baths are common treatments for skins that tend to develop infections due to barrier damage or steroid overuse. In addition to some steroids being allergens themselves, using steroids daily or over a long period of time can lead to several health problems as well as to an overgrowth of non-pathogens and/or opportunistic microbes such as Staphylococcus aureus. In several cases, bleach baths have been shown to improve atopic dermatitis and lessen the need for steroids. IMPORTANT: bleaches can be caustic, highly irritating, or even toxic. Sodium hypochlorite can react with many things — when exposed to sunlight, it can produce the lung irritant chlorine gas and exposure to ammonia can produce toxic chloramines. Do not start bleach baths without your physician’s approval and close supervision.
Bleaches can also contain chlorine, a strong irritant that can cause several skin problems, from rashes to acne. Bleach is also a powerful photo-allergen — exposure to sunlight and even indoor lights (from lamps as well as your TV, phone, tablet, or computer) can cause dark spots and large dark patches. This is why some individuals who work in or around pools or who use household cleaning products with chlorine develop dark patches and blotches on the face and/or other areas of exposed skin. It’s such a powerful photo-allergen that reactions can occur simply from airborne exposure, without direct contact with skin.
Lastly, when inhaled, bleaches can also irritate the mucosa to produce upper respiratory problems, rhinitis-related problems, asthma, and a recurring sore throat.
If you have a history of sensitive skin, don’t guess: random trial and error can cause more damage. Ask your dermatologist about a patch test.
To shop our selection of hypoallergenic products, visit vmvhypoallergenics.com. Need help? Ask us in the comments section below, or for more privacy (such as when asking us to customize recommendations for you based on your patch test results) contact us by email, or drop us a private message on Facebook.
On the prevalence of skin allergies, see Skin Allergies Are More Common Than Ever and One In Four Is Allergic to Common Skin Care And Cosmetic Ingredients.
To learn more about the VH-Rating System and hypoallergenicity, click here.
Regularly published reports on the most common allergens by the North American Contact Dermatitis Group and European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies (based on over 28,000 patch test results, combined), plus other studies. Remember, we are all individuals — just because an ingredient is not on the most common allergen lists does not mean you cannot be sensitive to it, or that it will not become an allergen. These references, being based on so many patch test results, are a good basis but it is always best to get a patch test yourself.
2. W Uter et al. The European Baseline Series in 10 European Countries, 2005/2006–Results of the European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies (ESSCA). Contact Dermatitis 61 (1), 31-38.7 2009
3. Wetter, DA et al. Results of patch testing to personal care product allergens in a standard series and a supplemental cosmetic series: An analysis of 945 patients from the Mayo Clinic Contact Dermatitis Group, 2000-2007. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2010 Nov;63(5):789-98.
4. Verallo-Rowell VM. The validated hypoallergenic cosmetics rating system: its 30-year evolution and effect on the prevalence of cosmetic reactions. Dermatitis 2011 Apr; 22(2):80-97
5. Ruby Pawankar et al. World Health Organization. White Book on Allergy 2011-2012 Executive Summary.
6. Misery L et al. Sensitive skin in the American population: prevalence, clinical data, and role of the dermatologist. Int J Dermatol. 2011 Aug;50(8):961-7.
7. Warshaw EM1, Maibach HI, Taylor JS, Sasseville D, DeKoven JG, Zirwas MJ, Fransway AF, Mathias CG, Zug KA, DeLeo VA, Fowler JF Jr, Marks JG, Pratt MD, Storrs FJ, Belsito DV. North American contact dermatitis group patch test results: 2011-2012.Dermatitis. 2015 Jan-Feb;26(1):49-59.
8. Warshaw, E et al. Allergic patch test reactions associated with cosmetics: Retrospective analysis of cross-sectional data from the North American Contact Dermatitis Group, 2001-2004. J AmAcadDermatol 2009;60:23-38.
9. Foliaki S et al. Antibiotic use in infancy and symptoms of asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, and eczema in children 6 and 7 years old: International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood Phase III. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2009 Nov;124(5):982-9.
10. Kei EF et al. Role of the gut microbiota in defining human health. Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2010 Apr; 8(4): 435–454.
11. Thavagnanam S et al. A meta-analysis of the association between Caesarean section and childhood asthma. Clin Exp Allergy. 2008;38(4):629–633.
12. Marks JG, Belsito DV, DeLeo VA, et al. North American Contact Dermatitis Group patch-test results, 1998 to 2000. Am J Contact Dermat. 2003;14(2):59-62.
13. Warshaw EM, Belsito DV, Taylor JS, et al. North American Contact Dermatitis Group patch test results: 2009 to 2010. Dermatitis. 2013;24(2):50-99.
Want more great information on contact dermatitis? Check out the American Contact Dermatitis Society, Dermnet New Zealand, and your country’s contact dermatitis association.
Laura is our “dew”-good CEO at VMV Hypoallergenics and eldest daughter of VMV’s founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist. She has two children, Madison and Gavin, and works at VMV with her sister CC and husband Juan Pablo (Madison and Gavin frequently volunteer their “usage testing” services). In addition to saving the world’s skin, Laura is passionate about health, inclusion, cultural theory, human rights, happiness, and spreading goodness (like a great cream!)