Textile dye allergy
Dyes used in textiles can cause allergic reactions. In Denmark, textile dye allergy is rare.
Textile dye and allergy
During the dyeing process the textile dyes bind to the fibres of the fabric. Sometimes there is a surplus of dye, which is not bound in the fabric’s fibres, and this can bleed onto the skin. Many chemicals are used in the different textile dyes. The chemical dyes that belong to a group called azo dyes are the most allergenic. Azo dyes are used mostly to colour synthetic fibres such as polyester and nylon. These dyes are water soluble; sweat can have the same effect, which leads to the dye coming in direct contact with the skin and increasing the risk of developing an allergy.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptom is eczema. The skin is itchy, red and swollen with spots or bumps and possibly also blisters. The eczema usually starts where the clothing has the closest contact with the skin. For example, if the dye of a shirt or blouse is causing the eczema, the inflammation will appear around the armpits and the neck. Hand eczema is also a symptom, especially if contact with the dyes is work-related.
How frequent is it?
Textile dye allergy occurs relatively seldom in Denmark. A dermatology department at one of the Danish hospitals tested more than 1000 eczema patients for the allergy over 6 months; only two people had textile dye allergy. Textile dye allergy occurs more frequently in countries with a warm climate. For example, in Italy it is not unusual that 50 out of 1000 eczema patients have textile dye allergy. This may be due to people sweating more in warmer climates and, as a consequence, greater bleeding of textile dyes. It may also be due to the greater popularity of synthetic textiles in warmer countries and, with this, the greater exposure to textile dyes.
How is it diagnosed?
If the localization of the patient’s eczema and his or her medical
history suggest textile dye allergy, a patch test, also called a plaster
test, is done to confirm the diagnosis. In addition to the actual dyes
tested small pieces of the item of clothing thought to provoke the
allergy can be tested too.
Are there other causes of textile dye allergy?
Some textiles are treated with other chemicals to give a special
finish. These chemicals are called Textile Finish Resins. They give
textiles bulk or make them water or crease resistant. Textile Finish
Resins release formaldehyde and may provoke allergic reactions, but this
is relatively rare.
Some textile dyes are used to a limited extent in permanent hair dyes. This means that if a person is allergic to hair dye he or she may also be allergic to textile dyes and vice versa. However, this is seemingly rare.
What can you do yourself?
If you are allergic to textile dyes, you should avoid wearing deeply coloured clothing, particularly if the item is directly next to your skin. Choose light-coloured clothing and undyed clothing with 100% natural fibres (cotton, linen, silk, wool).
If you are allergic to textile finishes, washing the garment will remove the surplus formaldehyde and will diminish or remove the problem. If you are allergic to formaldehyde, it is advisable to use only untreated textiles.