Posted by: Kenn Hermann | March 26, 2008

Skin Sensitivity and Our Toxic Chemical Environment

For the past three years I have had increasing sensitivity to any fabric close to my skin. This has been especially true for socks, undershirts, cotton sweaters, and bed sheets. Whenever I pulled on socks or slipped into bed, I would often get sharp tingling like thousands of hot tiny needles poking me and/or sudden headaches. All I would have to do is pull on a clean 100% cotton T-shirt and the headaches would start. For a long time I thought it was the synthetic fabrics, so tried 100% cotton. Same reaction. My wife thought I was crazy. After all, she was buying top-of-the-line high-count cotton sheets. What could be better? I stopped complaining, and stopped wearing T-shirts and sweaters. I had to endure wearing socks that were not 100% cotton.

It never occurred to me that my intense sensitivity was due to the toxic chemicals in our laundry detergents and softeners. After all, women, not men, have sensitive skin, right? Wrong! Finally, this past fall out of sheer frustration I started doing some more digging and discovered that many people are sensitive to the chemicals in those products — even men. Since I do the laundry in our house, I threw out the softeners we had been using and substituted good old vinegar, a natural softener. That helped, but only a little. That seemed to confirm my wife’s suspicion that my reaction to the sheets and clothes was all in my head. After all, she didn’t have any reaction to the sheets, so . . . . Finally, I dumped the detergent we had been using and substituted Arm & Hammer Essentials, which has eliminated all of the toxic chemicals that still remain in its regular detergent. I also add a little Borax to boost cleaning power.

Voila! Thus far, my skin and head are pleased with the change. I am gradually washing all of the sheets and my cotton clothes. (Evidently, the toxic chemicals do not cling as easily to the synthetic fibers of my shirts so they have not been as severe a problem.) I am still leery of trying on any new clothes for fear of battling headaches, but so far my experiment in eliminating these toxic chemicals from my home environment is working. If you or anyone in your family, has any of my symptoms, throw out your detergents and softeners and substitute toxic-free alternative cleaners. Better yet, throw them out whether there are any complaints in your family or not.

Of course, this is just one tiny corner of an immense problem we face with the presence of tons of toxic chemicals that lace our high-tech environment.


  1. How good it is to finally discover what was ailing you, eh! … I’ve been thinking, hearing, reading more about toxins since I worked with a friend, Karl that studied Environmental Toxicology at Western (that’s our local U. here in Bellingham ). We worked together for an environmental services company at one of our local refineries. Here’s a couple things among many that he clued me into:
    1) Drinking out of plastic….not a good thing. Even the hard plastic bottles that are re-usable are still not toxin free. I switched to a Sigg water bottle that is a Swiss engineered aluminum water bottle with no metallic taste.

    2) Fire retardants……cause cancer. That lovely-to-some ‘new car smell’ is a spray-on fire-retardant with a known carcinogen. (oh, but that’s only in California that you’ll get cancer)

    3)Soda lovers…….Karl told me something about sodium benzoate and citric acid forming benzene (known carcinogen)

    4) Speaking of benzene. Benzene is really high in gasoline. So it IS really important to not be breathing in gasoline vapors at the pump.

    5)Plastic toys. In some plastics there exists something called phthalates. Toxic for kids, especially harmful to male infant’s reproductive system. Mark Shapiro, author of “Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products” talks about how the EU has banned the manufacture of products w/ phthalates b/c they are paying for health care and see the piggy bank get significantly drained down the road with the long-term effects of phthalates. Here in our good old U.S. since we are not funding health-care and because Big Business knows best we have no such bans……..Things are hopefully changing though. There is a bill in process right now in Washington State that would ban phthalates. It got the attention of Mattel and other toy giants who came to our state capitol recently to remind people how important it is to continue to sell crappy plastic toys that we now are toxic. “It’s the economy stupid”

    6) I’m teaching my daughter to examine ingredients and stay away from anything with numbers in it (yellow #5, etc) or anything with more than ten letters, or a word too heavy with consonants that sound too much like pharmacandy)

    all for now…thanks for the spark Kenn,
    Bellingham, Wash.

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