Harsh soaps blamed for eczema

Excessive washing with harsh soaps and abrasive skin care products is being blamed for a rise in allergic diseases such as eczema. University College London's Institute of Child Health believes that overuse of harsh products strips away a protective layer of skin. This, they write in the journal Trends in Immunology, could make people more vulnerable to an allergic disease.

Researcher Professor Robin Callard said many strong soaps, exfoliant beauty products and biological washing powders were potent enough to strip away the skin's protective outer layer. His research has shown that this protective layer is weakened in people with a rare genetic skin disease who develop eczema or other allergies.

The UCL team has also shown that if the outer protective layer of skin is stripped away - using something as simple as sellotape - allergy-causing particles are able to penetrate the skin. They are then taken up by specialised cells called Langerhans cells in the epidermis. The Langerhans cells then move from the skin to the local lymph nodes of the immune system and induce an allergic response.

Professor Callard said that there was mounting evidence from both studies of rare genetic conditions and their lab work to support an important role for abnormalities in the outer protective layer of the skin in allowing allergic sensitisation.

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July 2007

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