Oct 262011

Enzymes in biological detergents cause eczema

Almost a quarter of the laundry detergents sold in the UK are of the ‘non-bio’ type meaning non-biological, in other words they contain no enzymes. The normal type of detergent contains these agents because they are good at digesting biologically-based stains on fabrics such as food stains and the stains we don’t talk about. However, it is only in the British Isles that ‘non-bio’ detergents are sold and this is as a result of a scare story of 30 years ago.

Back in the early 1980s, Unilever launched a new type of detergent called Persil New System which contained enzymes. Not all welcomed this advance in cleaning technology, and some claimed it caused them to break out in rashes and even develop eczema. Sadly, BBC TV gave them air time and this of course resulted in many more people discovering that they too appeared to be affected.

However, there never was any real scientific evidence to support these claims – and there never has been. (Those who were truly affected by detergents were found to be sensitive to the fragrance molecules that were included in detergents in those days, and not only in Persil. Even these are no longer used.)

Nevertheless, the belief that enzymes cause some people to be adversely affected has persisted to the present day, such can be the powerful and long-lasting effect of a media scare story. Nowhere else in the world are ‘non bio’ detergents sold, although of course there is just the possibility that British people really do have more delicate skin.