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Myths and truths about using fabric softener in children’s clothes

“I don’t use fabric softener because my son has atopic skin.” That phrase is often repeated, but it is not always the right decision because sometimes the problem or solution has nothing to do with these products. Malaga dermatologist Leandro Martínez clarifies some of the main doubts and makes several recommendations, such as paying attention to the amount of product used and rinsing well.

What percentage of children have atopic skin?

In Malaga, one in five children may be atopic in childhood, a characteristic that disappears as they grow. This is a “high” percentage, according to dermatologist Leandro Martínez. This is about 20% of the population in developed countries. On the other hand, the prevalence in countries like Africa is lower. In this regard, there are several theories as to why this happens, although the most likely is that in the Western environment there is less contact with germs in the first years of life. This does not mean that children in countries like Spain have moderate or severe atopic dermatitis, but sometimes they are simply mild signs due to the development of eczema or slightly more reactive skin.

Does the use of fabric softener or detergent only affect children with atopic skin?

No, this is not exclusive to atopic children. Any child’s or adult’s skin can be affected when a suitable detergent is not used, or especially by fabric softener, which is “blamed” more because they are the ones that have perfume and substances that can be more allergic. Martínez recalls that since the beginning of this century, detergents have been marketed whose composition has avoided the main substances that can be allergic or that can be irritating to the skin. «Most of the best-known commercial brands have already released lines for sensitive or reactive skin. What they try to avoid in these compositions are the main groups that cause skin irritation,” he clarifies.

Is it recommended not to use fabric softener for children with atopic skin?

As a general rule, it is not recommended to stop using fabric softener. The Malaga dermatologist explains that it is when the real disease is not controlled that other avenues are explored. «When the detergent or fabric softener causes problems on the skin, it is most likely that it has not been rinsed well. “That is mostly the main problem,” he maintains. From there, it is recommended that a detergent or softener be used that avoids substances that are irritating and that can generate this reaction upon contact with the skin, but also that parents be very scrupulous when rinsing and minimize or optimize the product quantity.

Is there any type of clothing that is more optimal for atopics?

«The problem is that if I put on a shirt with traces of a detergent or fabric softener (because it has not been rinsed well) and it has irritating substances, my skin will react because in the end the clothes are in contact with the body,” explains Leandro Martínez. In the case of pajamas, a garment that the little ones in the house wear for hours, it is recommended that they be made of natural fibers, mainly cotton, and never wool, which does cause skin irritation. Cotton and linen, on the other hand, are optimal for this type of skin.

When should you avoid using fabric softener?

If you buy this type of garment, rinse it well, reduce the amount of product and it still gives a reaction, it is time to stop using the fabric softener, but in no case as a general rule.

Is it counterproductive to stop using fabric softener even if my child does not have atopic skin?

No, the dermatologist emphasizes that in this case it is not like when people go on diets to avoid gluten that end up making the person intolerant. “It would only be counterproductive because the clothes will be less soft,” he says.

Can skin become atopic due to the use of softener?

No, in no case. Atopic skin stems from a genetic determination, which determines an alteration of the skin barrier and an immunological alteration. “What we do not know is whether the immunological alteration generates the alteration of the skin barrier or the alteration of the skin barrier allows the immunological alteration of the skin, but that does not depend on external substances such as softeners or detergents,” Martínez clarifies. Of course, he clarifies that the “debut” of atopy can be brought forward by this use, but that these symptoms were going to arrive at one time or another.

Are there different types of atopic skin?

According to Leandro Martínez, yes, it is a “tremendous fan.” There are children whose parents hardly even know they have atopic skin, to others who cannot even sleep. However, these latter barely account for 2 percent of the total; most have very mild symptoms that are resolved with creams.