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Clothing Allergies

Clothing Allergies


Many people suffer from allergies – in fact the numbers are rising.  Although most of us know about allergies brought on by cats, dogs, other animals, nuts, other foodstuffs, pollen and washing powders, not many people realise that it can also be clothes themselves that cause allergies.

The materials and substances embedded within the textiles of the clothes we wear are often causes for allergies and itching, particularly for people with already sensitive skin, or those prone to other allergies.

Reasons behind Clothing Allergy

New Clothes

It may sound surprising but many new clothes can cause allergic reactions.  When clothing is manufactured it goes through several processes before finally ending up in our department stores, clothes retailers or supermarkets, hanging on rails or sealed in plastic.  Prior to this, it isn’t washed.

New clothes contain formaldehyde which is toxic and can trigger reactions such as itchy or irritated skin. This chemical compound is used to keep clothes crease-free while displayed or stocked in our shops.

This is why occasionally our customers tell us that our stick on name labels are not staying on properly.  If the clothes are brand new and contain chemicals they may react with the stick on name labels and affect their stickiness.  This is why we always ask customers to wash any brand new clothing before applying the stick on name labels.  You will see a notice advising this on the back of all our sticky name labels.


Material used can also cause allergies. Lycra is often used in clothing and many people are allergic to this.  You will also find it in rubber gloves, party balloons, paint, bandages, all sorts and it can trigger nasty reactions.

Over the last few years latex rubber gloves in hospitals and dentist have been phased out for this reason – but it is still often found in clothing, especially sports clothes and swimming wear.

Spandex is similar to lycra and also found in clothing. People can also be allergic to this as well as to silk, denim, corduroy and even to wool.  Those who are very allergic to animals will be particularly susceptible to allergies that come from materials such as wool.


People with very sensitive skin can find even the tiniest of accessories to be irritating.  Studs, zips, buttons, poppers, clips and buckles can all cause problems, especially if they contain certain metals such as nickel.

As materials in clothing develop and evolve, more and more chemicals are used.  Some clothing these days is very different from a few years ago.  Some is very hot, great for keeping people warm in very cold climates, or when doing sports such as skiing or mountaineering.  Other sportswear offers breathable materials for those who go hiking or running.  Lycra is very popular in gyms, for yoga, pilates and other sports.  Colours such as golds and silver which are currently very fashionable will contain chemicals that weren’t used years ago. 

Advances in clothing technology often make for great progress, yet sometimes they have downsides too.  Some chemicals like perfluorinated compounds used in breathable fabrics can even be carcinogenic.

Washing Powder

Detergents are important ingredients when it comes to washing clothes. Unfortunately, many of these contain chemicals that cause allergies and commercial detergents in particular contain harmful toxins like dyes and perfumes.  Thankfully there are more and more organic and ecologically friendly detergents on the market now which may help sufferers.


Clothing Contact Dermatitis

Here’s a medical explanation of what happens:  An allergic reaction to clothing occurs when antibody cells recognise chemical structures of compounds used and found in clothes. They then treat them as foreign objects and even consider them as threatening.  Because of that reaction, plasma cells will start producing allergic antibodies which find their way to different systems of the body. These antibodies will integrate with pro-inflammatory cells that line the skin. When they bind together, histamines are released; thereby, causing different symptoms of clothing allergy.

This is why we often take anti-histamines when we have an allergic reaction.

Symptoms of Clothing Allergy

Like all allergies, clothing related allergy symptoms come in different degrees of strengths ranging from mild and occasional to severe reactions.  The symptoms tend to be the usual allergy symptoms such as :

  • Skin becoming red and itchy.  This is one of the most common symptoms of allergy, regardless of the reason behind it.
  • A runny nose possibly caused by inhaling airborne chemicals used in detergents used.
  • Watery eyes as a result of inflammation going into your visual system.
  • Scaly and itchy skin which may also be accompanied by swelling and inflammation, further characterised by cracked and hard skin surfaces.
  • Blistering and skin lesions when metallic particles merge with sweat
  • Skin Acne


Ways to Control Clothing Allergy

Allergy tests can be done in order to determine the strength of the allergy and the precise reason behind it.  

Doctors will often prescribe steroid creams to help with clothing allergy and also give antihistamines.  These can also be bought over the counter at pharmacies.  They work for all sorts of allergies – hayfever, pet allergies, dust mites etc.

There are many alternative therapies and products on the market which also help allergies.  You may have heard that Turmeric supplements have many healing benefits and one of these is for allergies and other related problems including asthma.  To see more about this click on

How to try and avoid clothing allergies

  • Wear cotton as this is one of the fabrics which least causes clothing allergy.
  • Always wash new clothes before wearing them – and before sticking name labels on their care labels!
  • If possible only use mild soap and water when washing clothes. Try not to use any fabric conditioners or detergents which contain perfumes and other harsh chemicals.
  • Try to identify what causes skin irritation and avoid it.  If you think the metal buttons in your jeans or shirt sleeves might be a cause, then replace them with plastic or fabric buttons.
  • Don’t wear old clothes that might have accumulated dust and mites over the years.
  • Always wash your clothes if they’ve not been used for a long time.

After having done all this, anyone still having severe problems should see a skin specialist.

And finally don’t forget, if you are using stick on name labels make sure you wash any brand new clothing first before applying the stick on labels.