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Household, personal, and industrial products contain detergents which play an important role in everyday life.

The term “detergency” is used to describe the process of cleaning by a surface-active agent (surfactant).

The most important ingredients of detergents are surfactants which display surface-tension-lowering properties so water can expand to wet surface, increasing washing effectiveness. Chemically, surfactants are amphiphilic molecules with a lipophilic tail and a hydrophilic head. They are categorized into four primary groups according to the charge present in the hydrophilic head: anionic, cationic, amphoteric, and nonionic. In the current market of cleaners and cleansers, anionic surfactants are the most common ones.

Surfactants may be irritating to the skin. The order of irritant potential of surfactants is the following: cationic = anionic > amphoteric > nonionic; however, mixtures of surfactants may elicit unexpected reactions.

Considering the widespread use and applications of household and personal detergents, the frequency of side effects to the skin is relatively low in an occupational as well in a personal exposure.


  • Cationic Surfactant
  • Anionic Surfactant
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
  • Laundry Detergent
  • Benzalkonium Chloride

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Correspondence to Lilla Landeck .

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Landeck, L., Baden, L.A., John, SM. (2012). Detergents. In: Rustemeyer, T., Elsner, P., John, SM., Maibach, H.I. (eds) Kanerva's Occupational Dermatology. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

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