Optical brighteners work by absorbing ultraviolet light and turning it into a blue light, which masks any yellowing of your clothes that can occur over time. Your clothes appear whiter and brighter, but they're not actually any cleaner.
By design, optical brighteners can only work by sticking to the fabrics that they have washed. The problem with this, is that they also bond to your skin, which is irreversible. In a lot of cases, it's not fragrances and dyes that cause skin rashes and irritation, but optical brighteners.
Many of the chemicals classed as optical brighteners can be toxic to aquatic life and they have been know to cause mutations in bacteria. Another problem with them is that they are slow to biodegrade, so once they have been washed into our rivers and seas they hang around for a long, long time polluting our waterways and marine life.
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