Clothing Allergy

Can You Be Allergic to Your Clothes?

Woman itching her skin
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Rashes are common problems that many people experience. When rashes are itchy, people often blame the rash on allergies. Usually, people think of food allergies, pet allergies and medicine allergies – as well as soaps, detergents, perfumes and other toiletries used on the skin. People shouldn’t overlook clothing as a possible cause of allergic rashes. Clothing can cause allergic skin rashes through a number of different causes, but all of these causes are due to contact dermatitis.

Contact dermatitis appears as itchy bumps or blisters at the site of exposure to the particular antigen on the skin.

Nickel Allergy

Probably the most common cause of clothing allergy is due to contact dermatitis from nickel. Nickel can be found in snaps and rivets on pants (especially blue jeans), shirts, and jackets as well as on belts and other accessories. Itchy rashes present around the umbilicus (belly button) are commonly caused by nickel allergy due to clothing.

Rubber Allergy

Elastic in clothing is another common cause of clothing allergy. Rashes around the waist, wrists and ankles would be locations that would suggest the presence of allergy to rubber compounds. There are a number of different types of rubber that can cause contact dermatitis; these include carba compounds, black rubber, mercapto compounds, thiuram (present in natural rubber latex), and mercaptobenzothiazole

Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a preservative that is used to finish durable press fabrics.

Clothing that is “permanent press” or “wrinkle-free” contains formaldehyde in order to keep its shape and prevention of wrinkles. Contact dermatitis to formaldehyde in clothing would cause rashes on the sides of the body, the back (immediately behind the armpits), the sides of the neck and the front of the thighs, which are the areas of the body that clothing rubs against the most.

Pigments

A number of different pigments in clothing can also cause contact dermatitis. Disperse blue 106 is a dark blue pigment that is used to color clothes dark blue, brown, black, purple and green. Since disperse blue 106 is related to phenylenediamine, it is possible for people with an allergy to hair dye to be at increased risk for allergic reactions to this pigment as well. Potassium dichromate is a pigment used to make textiles and pool table felt a bright shade of green. It is well known to cause contact dermatitis, especially in people who work with leather, paints, and cement. Lastly, cobalt is another pigment that provides a bright blue pigmentation or other hues made from this primary color (such as bright green). Cobalt is also a well-known cause of contact dermatitis, particularly in people with a nickel allergy.

Recommendations for People with Clothing Allergy

There are a number of strategies that people with suspected clothing allergy should follow:

  • Those with nickel allergy should avoid clothing with metal snaps, buttons, and zippers, and or replace with plastic fasteners instead. Cover any metal fasteners, such as the rivet on blue jeans, with a piece of fabric to keep from rubbing against the skin on the abdomen.
  • People with rubber allergy should avoid clothes with elastic bands, and remove/replace with drawstrings.
  • Formaldehyde in clothes can be avoided by washing clothes before wearing, as well as by not wearing clothes that are “wrinkle free,” “non-iron,” or “permanent press.”
  • Those with pigment allergy should wash clothes one or more times before wearing in order to remove as much excess pigment as possible. Avoiding dark colors (such as blues, blacks, browns, and greens) and instead wearing light colors (such as whites, yellows, beiges, and oranges) will avoid many of the most common pigments to cause contact dermatitis.

Sources:

1. TRUE Test Antigen Information Handouts. Website Accessed December 26, 2015.

2. Beltrani VS, Bernstein IL, Cohen DE, Fonacier L. Contact Dermatitis: A Practice Parameter. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2006;97:S1-38.

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