Bellevue Acne Clinic
Does fabric softener cause acne?
My patients often ask for professional guidance on the effect of household products on their skin. One question I heard recently is, “Does fabric softener cause acne?
To determine if fabric softener causes acne, one must answer two questions.
1. Are the ingredients in fabric softener comedogenic (acne-causing)?
2. If the ingredients DO cause acne, does enough of the chemical come in contact with skin to have an effect?
To answer the first question, one must know what chemicals are in fabric softener. Common ingredients include siloxanes, emulsifiers, surfactants, fragrances, colors and preservatives. Many of these ingredients are intentionally insoluble in water, preventing them from being washed off your clothes during the rinse cycle. Since they don’t rinse off, they stay on the surface, leading to the pleasant smell and touch that persists after the wash and dry cycle.
Since the aforementioned chemicals are water-insoluble, they are therefore oily (Remember, oil and water don’t mix). Oils are especially known to clog pores. Yes, chemicals in fabric softener CAN cause acne….if they get on your skin.
Does enough fabric softener end up on the skin to cause a problem? Perhaps. Unless you wash your face with liquid fabric softener or dry your face with dryer sheets, any skin-contact is indirect. The primary way that these chemicals might touch your face is if your towels are conditioned with fabric softener.
The oils in fabric softener may rub off on your face and clog your pores. However, much of the reaction depends on how sensitive you happen to be to the ingredients in your fabric softener. If you have especially sensitive skin you may have a red or itchy rash, or maybe just an increase in acne. There are commercially available brands that are hypo-allergenic, organic, or formulated for sensitive skin. However, they all contain some form of surfactant and emulsifier, which stays on the fabric and may promote acne on your skin.
The oily chemicals in fabric softener may rub off onto your face when you dry your face with a towel. Depending on how sensitive you happen to be to your fabric softener, this may increase your risk of acne. If you think fabric softener is causing or worsening your acne, trying avoiding fabric softener for a month and see if your acne improves.
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