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Fashion Victims

Allergic to your apparel?


Fashion Victims

Clothing makes the man (or woman) … itchy. Materials such as wool or leather, finishes, and dyes can irritate sensitive skin if you have a fabric allergy.

We've all seen the magazine articles blacking out the faces of those caught mixing pink polka-dots with orange plaid, but the true fashion victims are those whose clothing and accoutrements leave them itchy, in pain, and miserable.

It's even possible to become sensitive to your favourite zippered hoodie over time. What's a fashion-conscious girl—or guy—to do?

Fashion allergies may be more common than you think. Approximately 7 percent of us will experience contact dermatitis (skin rash) in our lifetimes. Because the cause is often unknown, it could very easily be your new sweater.

But our clothing may spark other allergic reactions too, including runny nose and watery eyes associated with airborne allergens. Anecdotal observations go as far as to suggest that clothing can also affect mood, and research shows that contact dermatitis not only becomes more severe over time, but also can cause a systemic reaction in the body.

If you're experiencing allergic symptoms and haven't isolated the cause, it may be time for a fashion makeover.

Textile triggers

A common allergen, wool has scratchy fibres that can lead to quick discomfort.

Sensitivity to rubber can cause problems when it's used in undergarments. It can also be a problem if rubber is used in the making of shoes or boots.

Polyester and other synthetics
Synthetic fabrics such as polyester cause challenges, often because the material lacks breathability and traps warm air and moisture close to the skin.

Fabric finish
Sometimes it's not so much the fabric as the finish used to create an attractive appearance or convenience that causes problems, including chemicals used to keep fabrics wrinkle-free, static-free, or flame-resistant.

Chrome-tanned leather has also been isolated as a problem fabric. Likewise, leather items often release formaldehyde, a known sensitizer. Formaldehyde textile resins are also commonly used in surgical uniforms and have been known to cause allergic reactions.

Fabric attraction
Fabric choices are also crucial if you suffer from environmental allergies: it seems that wool sweaters are magnets for pet dander and dust mites. Less attractive to the airborne particles is your freshly washed cotton T-shirt.

Keep these fabric decisions in mind even if you don't have animals yourself, but work with animal lovers. Studies have found that your clothing will attract animal dander from your co-workers when you share close quarters.

Residual allergens
It also appears that some allergens can survive the washing machine. Studies show that allergens found in medicated ointments don't dissolve in laundry detergent and may linger in your clothing, explaining why some sensitivity reactions may not clear up even after you stop using the offending agent. Researchers concluded that purchasing new clothing may be the only solution to an allergic reaction that simply won't clear up.

Feeling off-colour?

You might have heard that blue just really isn't your colour, and the research may explain why. A study performed at the University of Ottawa found that blue clothing seems to cause the most sensitivity reactions, especially when used to tint acetate or polyester fabric. Some other dyes also cause sensitivity reactions.

Disperse fabric dyes (used on synthetic fabrics such as polyester) are common sensitizers. The following dyes have been tested by researchers and have been shown to cause allergic reactions in sensitive participants.

  • Disperse Blue 35
  • Disperse Blue 106
  • Disperse Blue 124
  • Disperse Yellow 3
  • Disperse Orange 1
  • Disperse Orange 31
  • Disperse Red 1 and 17

If wearing a certain colour doesn't make you feel your best, it may not be all in your head! Avoid these disperse dyes, and stick to naturally tinted fabrics—or make a bold fashion statement and dress only in untinted creams, beiges, and whites.

All that glitters

If you want to add sparkle to your earlobes, accentuate your décolletage, or add some decoration to your belt, metallics are a fundamental fashion staple. Unfortunately, they can also cause a world of hurt.

Nickel sulphate is the number one allergen for both genders, and it's ubiquitous in our shiny metal objects because it adds strength to softer metals such as gold. It's found in necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings, belt buckles, zippers, suspender clips, and even bra clasps. If you have or suspect a nickel allergy, your safest bets for jewellery are gold, platinum, titanium, and sterling silver. Make sure you can return any jewellery purchase, because it's possible to have a reaction to any metal.

Here's looking at you

Whether or not you have 20/20 vision, eyewear is another accessory used to express your sense of style. Not surprisingly, the same dyes that cause troubles with fabrics can also lead to contact allergies from your spectacles. If a sensitivity reaction occurs with your tinted frames, switch to a metal frame, avoiding nickel if that's an issue for you.

Fit matters

Mom was right. Wearing your jeans too tight isn't good for you. Skinny jeans often contain Lycra, a known sensitizer that can lead to skin rash or hives. Tight-fitting jeans are also linked to a thigh condition involving a persistent burning sensation, tingling, and aching pain and hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity.

Studies show that a tightly fitting bra could be linked to breast cancer, while tight underwear could play a role in the development of testicular cancer for men.

Of course, the baggy trend may not be your fashion friend either: too much fabric can lead to skin-on-skin contact, which can cause irritation, particularly in young children and babies. Choose well-fitting clothes that allow you freedom of movement.

When it comes to fashion, looking good is important. Feeling good in your clothes is essential.

Fabric Sensitivies?  What to do

  • Opt for natural fibres such as cotton, bamboo, and silk.
  • Sleep in silk sheets if you suffer with severe eczema.
  • Dress in light layers during cold months, keeping natural fabrics closest to your skin.
  • Layer in natural fabrics to help reduce moisture retention that can be a factor in skin conditions such as eczema.
  • Shop the aisles of your natural products store for fragrance-free, dye-free, gentle goods for your laundry routine; your irritated skin could also be caused by chemicals in your laundry products.
  • Choose nightwear that can be boiled or washed at a minimum of 16 C to destroy dust mites if you’re allergic.


Brain Storm

Brain Storm

Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNMMichelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM