What You Need to Know About a Dish Soap Allergy

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

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

dish soap allergy

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What Is Contact Dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is a condition in which the skin gets irritated and inflamed from being in direct contact with a substance that contains an irritant or allergen. Contact dermatitis can come on quickly or develop slowly. There are two types of contact dermatitis: irritant dermatitis and allergic dermatitis.

Irritant Contact Dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis is when your skin gets aggravated from touching a certain substance. This is the most common type of contact dermatitis.

Irritating substances often include:

  • Acids
  • Soaps and detergents
  • Fabric softeners

If a substance is especially irritating to the skin, a reaction may happen right away.

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

Allergic Contact Dermatitis

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

You may not have an allergic reaction when you first use the substance containing the allergen. Rather, 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 in it. As a result, you could develop an allergic reaction from using the product regularly.

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

  • Fragrances in cosmetic products
  • Soaps
  • Perfumes
  • Preservatives like formaldehyde

Common Allergens in Dish Soaps

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

  • Fragrances, which are often made up of a mix of chemicals 
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which is a chemical that causes the soap to be bubbly and foamy
  • Triclosan, which may be found in antibacterial dish soaps

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

Also, dish soaps oftentimes don’t meet the definition for regulation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so information on allergens in the soap can be hard to find. But knowing the names of common allergens can help when shopping for dish soap. Buying fragrance-free soaps could be a good place to start.

Symptoms

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

If you have an allergic reaction, it will likely occur 24–48 hours after exposure to the dish soap. However, a reaction won’t always happen that fast. It may take using the dish soap several times—for months, even—for a reaction to occur.

Diagnosis

To diagnose an allergy to dish soap, your healthcare provider will do a physical exam of the affected area (likely your hands) and will ask you about the products you use that may be causing the reaction.

In this 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 have been using it.

Treatment

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

Home Remedies

Home-based treatments for a dish soap allergy are pretty straightforward. The first thing to do is wash the affected area (such as the hands) with lots of water to remove any lingering irritants or allergens that are causing the reaction. Do not use that dish soap anymore. 

Some easy ways to find relief for irritated skin include: 

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

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Therapies

Additional remedies you can seek for yourself include OTC medications or products. Some of these include:

  • Topical corticosteroids
  • Antihistamines
  • Cooling skin products
  • Moisturizing creams (fragrance-free)

If your symptoms persist, it is best to speak to your healthcare provider as they can prescribe you additional ointments, creams, or medicines to help you find relief.

Safe Dish Soap Alternatives

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

Plain soap will still do the job of taking food and oils off your dishes while being kind to your hands. Thus, a simple hand soap is a good alternative to dish soap.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

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

  • The reaction (such as itching or rash) is severe.
  • Your skin doesn’t get better after home remedies or OTC treatments.
  • You have a fever or experience tenderness, redness, and warmth at the site as these may be signs of an infection.

Summary

Contact dermatitis on the hands, also referred to as eczema of the hands, may be caused by an allergic reaction to dish soap. Certain ingredients in dish soaps may be irritants or allergens for some people. Symptoms include itching and a rash, which may be treated at home or require more help from a healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

Dish soap is a common everyday product that seems harmless, but you could develop a reaction to certain soaps. Although finding a detergent that is safe for you may require trial and error, trying fragrance-free and preservative-free soaps is a good place to start. Home remedies, such as wearing gloves while washing dishes, may 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 is common enough that there is a name for it: dishpan hands. Fragrance seems to be a common cause of irritation. Since many dish soaps contain fragrances, even when they are labeled “unscented,” dish soap–induced allergic reactions happen 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 than that. It may take repeated exposure to the dish soap before the symptoms occur. But if you are using the same soap and keep getting 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 skin also are common. Moreover, because dish soaps are usually used every day, repeated exposure to the possible irritants and allergens makes it difficult for the skin to recover.

  • Should you wash your hands after using dish soap?

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



2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Contact dermatitis.

  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Frequently asked questions on soap.

By Emily Brown, MPH
Emily is a health communication consultant, writer, and editor at EVR Creative, specializing in public health research and health promotion. With a scientific background and a passion for creative writing, her work illustrates the value of evidence-based information and creativity in advancing public health.