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Br J Dermatol. 2008 Jun;158(6):1177-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2008.08561.x. Epub 2008 Apr 12.

Enzymes, detergents and skin: facts and fantasies.

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DABMEB Consultancy, Sharnbrook, Beds, UK.


In their raw state, enzymes of bacterial/fungal origin cause allergic reactions in the lung. Proteolytic enzymes also cause irritation to skin, eyes and the respiratory tract. For 40 years, encapsulated enzymes have been used worldwide in detergent products, especially laundry formulations, and have increasing importance due to biodegradability and functionality at low temperatures, offering environmental benefits. Uniquely to the U.K., for years it has been suggested that the inclusion of enzymes in such products leads to adverse skin reactions, including erythema, pruritus and exacerbation of eczema. In this review, we look at the facts, asking whether there is evidence that the hazards identified for enzymes translate into any risk for consumer health. By considering the actual exposures in consumer use and exaggerated product usage, it is concluded that the irritating and allergenic hazards of enzyme raw materials do not translate into a risk of skin reactions, either irritant or allergic. Investigations of numerous individuals with skin complaints attributed to laundry products demonstrate convincingly that enzymes were not responsible. Indeed, enzyme-containing laundry products have an extensive history of safe use. Thus, the supposed adverse effects of enzymes on skin seem to be a consequence of a mythology. The important practical lesson is that when primary or secondary care practitioners are presented with a skin complaint, it should not be dismissed as a result of using an enzyme-containing laundry product as the diagnosis will certainly lie elsewhere. Education for healthcare professionals could usefully be enhanced to take this on board.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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