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The Dirty Dozen: The 12 Most Common Skin Irritants

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WebMD Feature

Admit it. Are your cabinets teeming with cleaning supplies (whether you like to clean or not)? Are your drawers overflowing with personal care products (some way past their expiration dates)? Are you juggling a zillion chores without enough hours in the day to finish them?

Don't worry, you're not alone. Most of us are too busy in our everyday lives to examine every product, chemical, or ingredient that enters our doors. So you don't beat yourself up if you don't have a clue which things lying around your home are common skin irritants.

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To help you solve that mystery, WebMD made a list of the top culprits that trigger skin reactions, or contact dermatitis. Some cause symptoms like redness, itchy skin, or inflammation. Others cause a stinging or burning sensation. Some are triggered by an individual's allergy (contact allergic dermatitis) while other chemicals affect everyone (contact irritant dermatitis).

By identifying the common offenders, you can take the proper precautions to protect yourself in your own home. Here are the dirty dozen:

1. Soap

Excessive hand washing, using soap and water, strips the skin of its natural oils and can result in "dishpan hands." At first, it may look like dry, chapped skin. But if it's prolonged and not treated, the skin can actually crack and bleed.

Plain soap and water is at the top of the list, says Donald V. Belsito, MD, clinical professor of medicine at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. "It's particularly problematic in today's germaphobic society because people feel they have to be clean and make no attempt to protect their skin."

Other related irritants include dishwasher soap, bubble bath, and body washes.

2. Household Cleaners

Most people are aware that household cleaners are not intended for the skin and the chemicals used in them can have an irritating effect on the body. These including all-purpose cleaners, dish detergents, laundry detergent, window cleaners, furniture polish, drain cleaners and toilet disinfectants.

Wearing protective gloves before handling such substances is recommended, suggests Belsito.

3. Fabric Dryer Sheets

Fabric softener and dryer sheets can cause itchy, irritant reactions.

"You see rashes in places that are covered by clothing and relative sparing where the clothing is not," says Amy Newburger, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in Scarsdale, N.Y., author of Looking Good at Any Age and spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). "That's a big giveaway."

Belsito recommends sticking with fragrance-free liquid fabric softeners to fight static cling.

4. Clothing

Clothing, especially rough fabrics like wool, can be problematic for individuals who suffer from a skin disorder called atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that 10% to 20% of children and 1% to 3% of adults develop this condition.

If you suspect that your clothing fabric is causing itching, irritation or a rash, Belsito suggests keeping cotton and cotton poly fabrics in your wardrobe.

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