You Skin’s Reaction To Synthetic and Natural Fibers

woman looking at clothes

“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” This was the quote that Neil Armstrong used to describe his historic first walk on the moon on July 20, 1969. However, Lyndon Johnson’s quote may have been a bit hastily declared. Johnson may not have had the foresight to realize that the fact that the astronaut’s lunar spacesuit was made of multi layers of synthetic fibers and that the flag he painted on the moon was rayon might have consequences in later years.

For many years, clothing was made of natural fabrics, however, these fabrics presented problems. Cotton wrinkled easily, silk was difficult to care for, and wool shrank and got eaten by moths. When synthetic clothing first appeared, it began a “wash and wear” revolution of endless possibilities. However, the degree to which these clothes simplified and improved our lives came at a cost. These fabrics were made largely of harmful chemicals. Among the many detriments of synthetic clothing is their effect on our skin.

Textile Contact Dermatitis
Skin problems caused by fabrics in contact with the skin is called a textile contact, or clothing, dermatitis, It can be caused by the fabric itself, but more often it is caused by an allergy in the chemical additives in the fabric. Most commonly, these reactions are caused by dyes, tanning agents. resins and glues used in the making of the clothing. The fabric additives most likely to cause clothing dermatitis are:

  • Formaldehyde resins used to make clothes resistant to wrinkles
  • Para-phenylenediamine (PPD) used in fur dyes
  • Flame retardants (tris(2,3-dibromopropyl)phosphate9130 and 2,3-dibromocresylglycidyl ether)

Clothing may also contain cobalt, latex, chrome and rubber accelerators which can also be sources of allures and elastic and metallic fasteners and stud fasteners can cause nickel dermatitis. (Watch those blue jeans!)

Symptoms
Sufferers of textile contact may experience redness, itchiness, and scaliness on the backs of knees, groin area, crooks of the arm and buttocks. Conditions tend to exacerbate in humid environments in which sweat can make contact with fabric more intense. At times, the friction between skin and clothing can lead to a condition called intertrigo and sometimes the rash can become infected with yeast and bacteria.

Who Is Most Likely to Suffer from Contact Dermatitis?
Because females tend to wear more colorful and tighter clothing, clothing dermatitis is more common in women than men. People with sensitive skin have a greater risk of contracting the condition, as are obese individuals and those that work in humid places, such as restaurants, bakeries, and laundries. Workers in the textile industry are also at higher risk.

How to Avoid Textile Contact Dermatitis

  • Wear clothes made of natural fibers
  • Wear light colored clothes, as these are likely to have less dye
  • Wear loose clothing, especially in hot and humid conditions
  • Avoid clothes labeled “dirt repellant” or “noniron” as these features are likely to have been made possible by chemicals
  • Avoid clothes labeled “wash separately”, as dyes from these products are likely to bleed.

Treatment
Textile contact dermatitis should clear up as soon as contact with the fabric is discontinued. Topical steroids, like hydrocortisone and over the counter creams can help to stop swelling, itching, and redness.

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