Hey, Quick Question: What Is Going on at The Laundress? [Updated]

The brand's alarming safety notice raised more questions than it answered, so we asked a pro how worried we should actually be.

Welcome to our column, "Hey, Quick Question," where we investigate seemingly random happenings in the fashion and beauty industries.

Ever since I started doing my own laundry, I've been a Tide girl. It's what my parents used and what I was told gets my clothes the cleanest. But when I became a beauty editor after college, I started getting decidedly fancy laundry detergent in the mail for free, the kind they didn't sell at my corner bodega. (The "free" part was especially important on my junior editor salary). I was hooked.

The "clean" ingredients promised to be "dermatologist tested," which I decided I needed even though I didn't have any skin conditions like eczema. I ignored my dad who said it was probably barely cleaning my clothes and became a bit of a detergent snob. Years later and The Laundress remains my go-to detergent for washing my "nicer" items, the ones from Aritzia and Reformation I'm supposed to hand wash but never do. I tell everyone about the brand's Crease Release, which I apply to all my wrinkled clothing instead of using a steamer, as well as the Home Spray that refreshes my linens in between washing. But this week, my world came crashing down.

On Thursday, The Laundress issued an alarming statement on Instagram and its website stating, "This safety notice is to inform you to immediately stop using all The Laundress products in your possession. We have identified the potential presence of elevated levels of bacteria in some of our products that present a safety concern."

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Um, what?!

The statement went on to say the company is "not aware of any adverse health impacts related to this issue" and will "communicate an update about the products impacted and how to obtain a reimbursement or replacement as soon as possible." Comments quickly flooded in, with folks on Instagram begging for more information about both the health concerns and reimbursement.

"This really requires more info and clarity, batch numbers, specifics," wrote influencer Nicolette Mason, who said she's immunocompromised and uses the brand because of its ingredients.

It's important to note that The Laundress is no longer a small start-up the way it was in 2004 when it launched. Founders Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd sold their company to Unilever in 2019 for a reported $100 million. Fans of the brand, of which there are 136K on Instagram alone, want more than a "beyond vague" (per another comment) statement. Others on Instagram have pushed back against these critiques, pointing out that the brand is doing its due diligence to alert customers as soon as possible. "Just stop using the product as instructed until they give an update. Don't slander a company with an overall good reputation over one incident," wrote one customer.

Though all products have been marked as "out of stock" on The Laundress' website, they're still for sale on Amazon.

On Friday, The Laundress updated its website with a bit more information in a FAQs format. Under the question about "elevated levels of bacteria," the website states: "Bacteria identified in product testing are so-called 'opportunistic' pathogens, including Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which occur naturally in water and soil. At the levels detected, these types of bacteria could present a risk of infection."

Unfortunately, that means those who have "weakened immune systems or external medical devices who are exposed to Pseudomonas aeruginosa face a risk of serious infection that may require medical treatment."

The brand goes on to recommend that anyone with a "weakened immune system" re-wash bedding, clothes, surfaces, dishes — anything The Laundress' dozens of products have touched — with another cleanser. I don't have these concerns but I can imagine this would be seriously overwhelming for those who do, especially parents with small children who use the Just for Baby line.

Tennessee-based beauty blogger Shelbey Wilson is especially concerned. After seeing The Laundress' Safety Notice, she shared images of rashes on her face, neck, hands, and legs that started showing up this past July. She can't say for sure these rashes were directly caused by The Laundress products, but she did tell me over email that her skin "started declining" after she received a $200+ order in July.

<p><a href="https://www.instagram.com/shelbey_wilson/?hl=en" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Photo: Instagram/@shelbey_wilson" class="link ">Photo: Instagram/@shelbey_wilson</a></p>

"The itching is non-stop," she says. "Not only do I wash mine and my 20-month-old son's clothes in the detergent, I also use it for my bedding. I never put two and two together because I had used their products for so long without a reaction." Wilson has been a loyal fan of The Laundress for seven years and has "purchased everything from their detergent, home sprays, and cleaning supplies" without issue — until now.

Wilson does have eczema, which is why she purchased The Laundress products in the first place. She's currently using two topical medications prescribed by her dermatologist and hopes to get more testing now that she's aware of The Laundress' current safety concerns. "I reached out to The Laundress via Instagram DMs just to share photos of my skin since placing my order in June," she says. "I have yet to hear back. I know they plan to release details on batches affected by this contamination but I am eliminating my products regardless."

I reached out to a rep for The Laundress as well as the brand's customer service for more information. The rep directed me to the same Safety Notice and I received an automated email from customer service stating: "If you are reaching out regarding our recent safety notice, we will send out an update about the products impacted as soon as possible. If you have questions about your health, please contact your doctor."

While she's not my personal doctor, I reached out to Dr. Sarina Elmariah, dermatologist and co-founder of Aramore Skincare. She has more than 16 years of experience in dermatology and internal medicine. I first asked her to explain what "elevated levels of bacteria" even means in layman's terms. "Companies routinely screen their products for contaminants, bacteria and other potential pathogens," she says. "Elevated levels of bacteria means that one or more species of bacteria were identified above a predetermined threshold that is considered to be safe."

She recommends throwing out any products The Laundress eventually says may have the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa, even if you're otherwise healthy. (Per its FAQs, The Laundress currently recommends holding onto the bottles as proof of purchase.) "While Pseudomonas is a bacteria that can cause infection of skin, lungs or other bodily tissues, such infections are extremely rare in healthy individuals," she says. "However, individuals who are immunocompromised, have poorly controlled diabetes, or have any type of skin wounds or skin breakdown, need to be aware that they are at increased risk of potential infection."

Dr. Elmariah recommends contacting your doctor if you have any sign of infection, such as "skin redness, swelling, pain, fevers, etc."

So, how could this have happened? Per Dr. Elmariah, "contamination may come from a number of potential sources," so we'll have to just wait and see. "The Laundress seems to be taking appropriate precautions to screen for this and advise their customers accordingly," she adds.

Fashionista will continue to update this article with any new developments. In the meantime, I'll be listening to The Laundress' and Dr. Elmariah's recommendations and holding off using any of the brand's products. It seems I'll have to go back to being a Tide girl after all.

Update, Monday Nov 21, 10:34 a.m.: The Laundress has released an updated statement with most current list of impacted products — find it here.

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