The Hesitant U.S. Rescue of the Soviet Economy Wilson Quarterly (Fall 2016):

By November 1990, Professor Graham Allison of Harvard University had become alarmed at the deterioration of the Soviet economy. Partial reforms had allowed cooperatives to make and keep profits and raise salaries, but prices remained fixed to maintain social stability. Shortages resulted. Anticipating shortages of basic consumer goods, people began to hoard leather, cloth, winter coats, even soap. Store shelves were empty, and hoarding had became so habitual that doctors in Tadzhikistan claimed that children were suffering from serious allergies due to the quantity of soap stuffed in their homes.

I guess there are a few related issues here: Did doctors claim that? Was there a surge in allergies? And was it plausibly due to soap stockpiling in the homes?

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    At first glance the claim seemed absurd, yet I found some supporting evidence: sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120619092933.htm Quote "Antibacterials in personal-care products linked to allergy risk in children"
    – pinegulf
    Mar 14, 2022 at 7:32
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    Perhaps related: There has been a significant surge in allergies in the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany) after the German unification. At least one theory is connected to soap, but more in the sense that the perhaps exaggerated cleanliness in Western societies causes our immune system to be so rarely confronted with dangerous substances, that it unlearns and starts fighting in reality harmless stuff. Mar 14, 2022 at 11:23

1 Answer 1


The June 1990 Atlantic article Inside the Collapsing Soviet Economy says:

Soviet TV and newspapers, liberated by glasnost, are filled with stories about these rising prices and their consequences. In late 1988 Soviet soapmakers began to shift from low-cost to higher-cost brands, as Gorbachev's new economic ground rules came into play. Consumers in response began scooping up the lower-priced soaps, fearing an impending shortage. As the shortage then naturally emerged, they turned to any soap they could find— and Moscow found itself faced with the howling resentment of citizens who couldn't find soap at any price on the shelves. Rationing was instituted, striking Soviet miners made more soap one of their demands, co-ops were discovered selling soap at six times the regular price, and doctors in Tadzhikistan reported patients whose tiny homes were so full of stockpiled soap that the inhabitants were suffering allergic reactions.

Report on the USSR (from the 4th quarter of 1989, alternative source) says:

Doctors in Tadzhikistan have reported increased incidence of allergies and irritation of the upper respiratory tract , and their determination of the cause : “ Having converted portions of their apartments into mylo and detergent warehouses, many of our people are breathing 'enriched' air"[reference 21]

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    I think the key phrase here is "suffering allergic reactions" which is a bit different than "suffering from serious allergies". I interpret the former to be temporary, while the latter implies they developed permanent allergies.
    – pipe
    Jun 22, 2022 at 0:23
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    I upvoted for the effort and added (economic) context, but it seems to me these are just repetitions of the claim as far as the allergic reactions go. Jun 22, 2022 at 6:10
  • @Fizz thanks Fizz, it would be better if we could find what reference 21 of Report on the USSR is. The OP article is from 2016 and the answer traces it back to 1989, but still Western media. Report on the USSR is by Radio Free Europe. Their reference 21 is probably the Soviet source.
    – DavePhD
    Jun 22, 2022 at 12:49
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    @pipe has a good point, the OP's quote and the quotes here all seem to indicate that patients were suffering from allergies to the soap's ingredients. I don't see anywhere a claim that the allergies themselves were caused by the soap, only that some people in soap-filled houses suffered allergic reactions, which are implied to be reactions to the soap, not that they wouldn't have had the allergies if it weren't for the soap exposure. Jun 22, 2022 at 13:37
  • anecdotally, I have known 2 people who had anaphylaxis from perfumes
    – Yorik
    Jun 22, 2022 at 20:06

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