Dish Soap Allergy: Symptoms, Treatment, and Alternatives

Several substances can cause allergic reactions on the skin, and dish soap is one of them. Some ingredients in dish soap are known irritants and allergens that can lead to redness or rashes on your hands. This reaction is called contact dermatitis. It can also be called eczema on the hands.

This article discusses contact dermatitis, including symptoms, causes, and treatments related to dish soap, which is a common cause of skin irritation and allergic reactions.

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What is contact dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is a condition in which the skin is irritated and inflamed by direct contact with a substance containing an irritant or allergen. Contact dermatitis can appear quickly or develop slowly. There are two types of contact dermatitis: irritant dermatitis and allergic dermatitis.

Irritant contact dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when your skin is aggravated by contact with a certain substance. It is the most common type of contact dermatitis.

Irritants often include:

  • Acids
  • Soaps and detergents
  • softeners

If a substance is particularly irritating to the skin, a reaction may occur immediately.

Mild irritants may only cause a reaction after repeated skin contact. Cosmetics like soaps, shampoos, and hair dyes are common irritants.

Allergic contact dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when your skin comes into contact with a substance that contains something to which you are allergic.

You cannot have an allergic reaction the first time you use the substance containing the allergen. On the contrary, you could go days or even years before developing an allergic reaction to the substance. Frequent use of the product may make you more sensitive to the allergen it contains. As a result, you might develop an allergic reaction by regularly using the product.

There are several allergens that cause allergic contact dermatitis, including:

  • Fragrances in cosmetics
  • Soaps
  • Perfumes
  • Preservatives like formaldehyde

Common Allergens in Dish Soaps

The dish soap allergens that cause contact dermatitis can be a fragrance or a chemical. Some of these allergens are:

  • Fragrances, which are often made up of a mixture of chemicals
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which is a chemical that makes soap bubbly and frothy
  • Triclosan, which can be found in antibacterial dish soaps

Because dish soaps typically contain a lot of ingredients, it can be difficult to know exactly what is causing an allergic reaction.

Additionally, dish soaps often do not meet the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory definition, so information about the allergens in the soap can be difficult to find. But knowing the names of common allergens can help when shopping for dish soap. Buying fragrance-free soaps might be a good place to start.

Symptoms

Symptoms of a dish soap allergy will mirror those of contact dermatitis. Symptoms of contact dermatitis can differ depending on whether it is caused by an irritant or an allergy. Symptoms of contact dermatitis caused by dish soap include itching and a red, patchy rash.

If you have an allergic reaction, it will likely occur 24 to 48 hours after exposure to dish soap. However, a reaction will not always occur so quickly. It may take several times to use the dish soap — for months or even — for a reaction to occur.

Diagnostic

To diagnose a dish soap allergy, your healthcare provider will perform a physical examination of the affected area (likely your hands) and ask you about any products you are using that may be causing the reaction. .

In that case, be prepared to share information about the dish soap you use and any other products you use on your hands, as well as how long you used it.

Treatment

Dish soap allergy can often be treated at home. However, severe reactions may require medical help.

home remedies

Home treatments for a dish soap allergy are quite simple. The first thing to do is to wash the affected area (like hands) with plenty of water to remove any lingering irritants or allergens that are causing the reaction. Stop using this dish soap.

Here are some simple ways to find relief for irritated skin:

  • Cold compresses
  • Oatmeal baths
  • Wear gloves (without rubber or latex, if these cause skin reactions)

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Therapies

Additional remedies that you can research on your own include medications or over-the-counter products. Some of them include:

  • Topical corticosteroids
  • Antihistamines
  • Skin Refreshing Products
  • Moisturizing creams (unscented)

If your symptoms persist, it’s best to talk to your health care provider as they may prescribe additional ointments, creams, or medications to help you find relief.

Safe alternatives to dish soap

While dish soap manufacturers may promote “natural” and “organic” ingredients that make their soap superior to competitors, these labels don’t necessarily mean the products are safe for your skin.

Since perfumes are a common irritant and allergen, look for fragrance-free soaps. Also, avoid antibacterial soaps as they may contain ingredients like triclosan that are harmful to your skin. Plus, since preservatives are also a common cause of allergic contact dermatitis, preservative-free dish soaps are a safer bet for your skin.

Regular soap will still do the job of removing food and oils from your dishes while being gentle on your hands. Thus, a simple hand soap is a good alternative to dish soap.

When to See a Health Care Provider

Although some skin reactions caused by dish soap can be treated at home, some may require medical attention. Talk to your healthcare provider if:

  • The reaction (such as itching or a rash) is severe.
  • Your skin does not improve after home remedies or over-the-counter treatments.
  • You have a fever or feel tenderness, redness and warmth at the site, as this may be a sign of an infection.

Summary

Contact dermatitis on the hands, also called hand eczema, can be caused by an allergic reaction to dish soap. Some ingredients in dish soaps can be irritating or allergenic to some people. Symptoms include itching and a rash, which can be treated at home or need more help from a health care provider.

A word from Verywell

Dish soap is a common everyday product that seems harmless, but you might develop a reaction to some soaps. While finding a detergent that’s safe for you may take some trial and error, trying fragrance-free and preservative-free soaps is a good place to start. Home remedies, such as wearing gloves when washing dishes, can also help.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common is a dish soap allergy?

    Many people experience skin irritation when using dish soap and other household cleaning products. It’s common enough that there’s a name for it: pan hands. Scent seems to be a common cause of irritation. Because many dish soaps contain fragrances, even when labeled “fragrance-free”, dish soap-induced allergic reactions occur frequently.

  • How do you know if you have a dish soap allergy?

    Common symptoms of a dish soap allergy are itchy hands and a red, patchy rash. Usually, these symptoms appear a day or two after using the dish soap, or even longer. It may take repeated exposure to dish soap before symptoms appear. But if you use the same soap and keep having a reaction on the skin of your hands, your dish soap may very well be the cause.

  • Why do dish soaps irritate your skin?

    Dish soaps often contain ingredients that are known irritants or allergens. Fragrances and certain preservatives that can irritate the skin are also common. Also, because dish soaps are typically used every day, repeated exposure to potential irritants and allergens makes skin recovery difficult.

  • Should you wash your hands after using dishwashing liquid?

    It’s not a bad idea to wash your hands with plenty of water after using dish soap to remove irritants from your skin. If you want to use soap and water, make sure your hand soap doesn’t contain the same irritants as dish soap, such as perfumes. If in doubt, just use plenty of water on your hands and any parts of your arm that the dish soap may have come in contact with.

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