The Contact Dermatitis and Clothing Connection



Persons who suffer with dermatitis or sensitive skin have a difficult time living day to day avoiding allergens and the dreaded rash, itching and discomfort that comes with it. I have sensitive skin and prone to develop contact dermatitis at any time often reacting to something next to my skin that I have used for long periods of time. I recently had to discard my favorite pair of pants after months of developing a rash on my stomach and side whenever I wore them. How could this be I said to myself, of all the things in the world to have, why did I inherit this strange skin?

While researching the matter I came across some interesting information regarding contact dermatitis and clothing. It seems there are quite a few people who develop contact dermatitis from formaldehyde resins which are used for textile finishes. Apparently it's pretty common in women but men can also develop the condition if they have sensitive skin. I was amazed and had no idea that formaldehyde was used on fabrics. Can you imagine being allergic to your clothes? If you are experiencing a chronic recurring rash on various part of your body, particularly where clothes fit tightly you may want to contact your Dermatologist and request testing for this sensitivity. The rash can get particularly irritated from perspiration and in areas where the friction of the fabric rubs against the skin.

According to the American Contact Dermatitis Society common eruption sites include the posterior neck, upper back, lateral thorax (part of the body between the head or neck and abdomen), waistband and flexor (fingers) surfaces. It can however appear in other areas like the forehead if you wear a cap that's been treated with formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is used to make clothing that is wrinkle resistant (permanent press) and these can release significant amounts of the substance. The American Contact Dermatitis Society states that rayon, blended cotton, corduroy, wrinkle-resistant 100% cotton, and any synthetic blended polymer are likely to have been treated with formaldehyde resins. Women's clothing also includes lingerie and undergarments.

Many individuals are allergic to formaldehyde and know to avoid personal care products that contain formaldehyde releasing preservatives. Keep in mind that many pharmaceuticals including OTC drugs also use these same preservatives so it's not limited to skin care products. For those sensitive to formaldehyde clothing can also be a stong source of irritation.

Each country has its own manufacturing standards for acceptable levels for formaldehyde resins. A low indicator of formaldehyde releasing resin would be 75 ppm which is the Japanese standard, the US standard is somewhere near 300ppm, quite a difference.

Fabrics safe to wear: 100% silk, 100% linen (if it wrinkles easy), 100% polyester, 100% acrylic, 100% nylon, spandex, flannel (soft), wool (may cause irritation) and denim.

Do not wear these fabrics: Permanent press, wrinkle resistant, color-fast, stain-resistant, blends (including rayon, polyester-cotton), corduroy or shrink-proof wool.

It is suggested that you read the labels in your existing clothing and separate them in your closet so you will know what's safe to wear. Always opt for loose fitting clothing since friction and perspiration can cause the condition to flare. Read the labels in any new clothing before you purchase. Clothes made in Japan are the safest and companies that sell clothes in Japan also have to meet the Japanese standard.

Companies that meet the Japanese standard: GAP, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Liz Claiborne, Eddie Bauer, Cuddle Duds and Levi Strauss. There may be others but these were on the list from the American Contact Dermatitis Society.

If you suspect that you or a loved one may have this sensitivity please contact your dermatologist to be tested. Also visit the website of The American Contact Dermatitis Society for more detailed information.



Source: Y Walker,

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  • Christian Morqueda
Comments 60
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  • Gloria

    Very interesting article ; is great to be educated when shopping.
    I personally always wash clothes before wearing them to try and remove excess dye and potential problems.
    On the safe fabric list you give : I am allergic to linen and bamboo. I guess in reality is possible to be allergic to anything.

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  • Jim Sanders
    Jim Sanders

    My last comment, many companies that sell mens underware forget to tell you they are loaded with chemicals, 100 per cent cotton they say ya right.Formalehyde, Wrinkle resistants,latex , voc,s , resins ,thiuramus, harsh chemicals,heavy metals,Fire retardents, pvc,s,bt cotton just to name a few.Thats why people get skin irritations and rash and suffer for years.

    Organic certified cotton is the way to go.

    Thankyou. Im just a voice for millions of guys out there who are to proud or macho to speak.

  • Marcia

    No one has mentioned the dyes used in fabrics which can also cause contact dermatitis. I just received the results from my patch test which showed reactions to many irritants including: perfumes, polyester, cobalt and AZO dyes. My doctor recommended wearing cotton and linen in white or off white colors only, and to be sure to wash new clothing at least three times before wearing. No dryer sheets. My skin improved greatly in a matter of weeks! Goodbye leggings.

  • Becky

    I tried several other products to calm a dermatitis flair up to no avail. In just 3 days foderma serum almost completely cleared up a troublesome spot on my neck that had been itchy, red and sore for MONTHS. It has worked better than even the dermalmd the Dr. Gave me! Today I used it on my child who shares my condition and in the last 24 hours she has had a huge improvement on her trouble areas! I have included pics of my neck, the first is day one, the second is day 3. I will warn that the 1st and second day of the healing process the itching definitely went up a notch, by the 3rd day the itching subsided to reveal smooth, healthy skin where it was previously rough, red and painful.

  • L A
    L A

    Cotton is one of the worst things you can wear or sleep on if you have dry skin. Cotton absorbs your natural moisture and any products you put on your skin. For YEARS I couldn’t understand why my skin was so dry. I wore cotton because I fell into the whole “it breathes” mind set. Well, thanks to a woman I met, she told me how cotton is so bad for your skin. I told her how wearing cotton gloves over my moisturized hands at night didn’t work, how my feet didn’t stay moisturized after putting a lot of moisturizer on and then put my cotton socks on, how I was starting to get all of these strange little wrinkles on my face. She said, “honey, NEVER wear or sleep on 100% cotton, it sucks the life out of your skin because it’s so absorbent.” She told me to get blends. I did what she said and now my skin is as healthy as ever. I never would have dreamed that cotton was causing me problems. I started sleeping on satin pillow cases and my face wrinkles cleared up and my hair wasn’t a tangled mess in the morning. I’ll NEVER go back to 100%, it destroyed my skin. My grandson had eczema and my daughter was told to have him wear all cotton. It just kept getting worse and worse. I told her to try blends so his skin wouldn’t dry up so much. Guess what, eczema disappeared.

  • Marilynn McGlashan
    Marilynn McGlashan

    Thank God for all the input. I’m retired and this just started for me 2 years ago. One night I had such a bad, burning rash on my chest I almost went to the ER. Epsom soaks helped a bit. I did the usual avoid-then-bring-back things to my environment. Two things regularly occurred. Anytime I was in a closed environment with another’s previously worn clothes, the itching started. I volunteer at a women’s center and clothing drives are popular. Some clothes caused this, some did not. The next was a person’s natural smell (sometimes after hugging someone). I’d be itching by the time I got home. Over the past few months, I’m fine as long as I’m out and about in places where fresh air is moving; then as soon as I’m home for the night, it starts up again. My first thought is: Am I allergic to my apartment? Seriously?? Then I realized that everytime I sat in my (old courduroy) chair, BANG!! Itching! That’s why I researched, then ultimately found, this web site. Thank you, thank you for all your insight as well as tried-and-true (or tried-and-failed) suggestions My PCP also does not know; he recommended an antihystamine as well. Onward to a solution!! Thanks again for all your input.

  • Melissa

    Has anyone had a problem with modal fabric?

  • Melissa

    Have Dermotologist do a nickel and cobalt patch test. Metals on clothing can cause contact dermatitis. Cobalt has nickel in it and is found in B12 supplements as well as cobalt blue fabric dyes.

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  • Steve

    While a lot of the recommendations are plausible, if still no resolution, I would go to a functional medicine Doctor. Most specialist focus on symptom relief and not the root cause. While many causes are possible, it all starts with the gut. Wipe out the good bacteria with meds and certain foods, your likely to develop intestinal permeability- which leads to antibody autoimmune response – thus inflammation. Coming from a guy with complete body burning for 1 year and had the million dollar workup. Gluten is just one of many lectins that can play havoc. Doesn’t have to be lectins either. Could also be parasitic – functional medicine does a much more thorough workup than any specialist I’ve been to. Would recommend reading two books: The Plant Paradox and The Immune System Recovery Plan (by Susan Blum MD)

  • Marilyn Wilson
    Marilyn Wilson

    After investigating my problem for years, I also think I suffer from formaldehyde resin exposure. A skin rash is not one of my symptoms but mine is respiratory. It started with a very dry mouth and throat, it gets very difficult to swallow. I had those symptoms for a few years now but I think I am escalating because it seems to affect my nervous system now. Fabrics such a sheets, any fabric that is permanent press and wrinkle free. I am also sensitive to mattresses which are treated with many chemicals, mainly polyurethane and formaldehyde. I wear all cotton now got rid of my polyester clothes treated with chemicals. I looked up multiple chemical exposures (MCS) I also think it is bamboo and tencel treated fabrics too. I would like to find anyone out there that has similar problems.

  • Nicole

    This is interesting. I have always worn corduroy to work, daily (if I ca t find another fabric that fits) and never had a problem. I got a new corduroy pant a couple months ago. Started developing a rash on my inner thigh a couple weeks ago. Now I have one starting on the other inner thigh. This pant does not feel right around my thighs, but I’m starting to think that this is what’s causing my rashes. The pant is 99% cotton 1% elastane. Made it Srilanka. Name brand Chaps. Not sure if I’ve ever worn Chaps before, but I’ve never had pants from this country to my knowledge. Guess I outta go pant shopping again.

  • Dori Dwyer OLdre
    Dori Dwyer OLdre

    Thanks for info on formaldehyde in fruits and vegetables. Also allergic to propolyne glycole in soaps icing shampoos

  • edna lherault
    edna lherault

    I am sixty four , i have experienced this same ailment for two years. Ouch!

  • Kieran Burr
    Kieran Burr

    Hi guys,

    I’m currently undertaking a design challenge, and I’m gathering research on the effectiveness of avoidance when suffering from contact dermatitis.

    I would appreciate you taking 5 minutes to complete the short survey I’ve attached in the link below.

    Thank you!

  • Joshua Ramey
    Joshua Ramey

    Thank you. Just a couple weeks ago i started getting a rash. It was only at my knees. Then it started showing up on my arm and sides.sides was before I stopped wearing long sleeve button up shirts. Today it’s showed up again with a vengeance. It’s engulfed my right leg and is on my left knee. After reading this I’m going to see a doctor as soon as I can. Meanwhile i’ll go Through my clothes. Thank you.

  • Dana Richard
    Dana Richard

    Thank you for your comments everyone. I feel I’ve learned more here than from any dr. Tried dairy free diet, then gluten free diet for six months. Allergist finally did patch test – formaldehyde, quarternium15, benzoic acid and a few others were allergens. Patch on left hand, left buttock, back, below arm pits and both legs between ankle and knee. It’s been horrible. Trying some formaldehyde free clothing, diet changes again (who knew some fruits and vegs naturally contained benzoic acid. Raisins and cinnamon for example, my daily staple in my oatmeal.) haven’t had cinnamon and raisins for weeks but still battling this rash. Heat aggravates it too (heat with woodstove, wood smoke produces formaldehyde.) so I’m sharing my experience hoping it helps someone and gleaning from your all’s experiences hoping I’ll learn something. God bless you all :)

  • Shona

    Thanks to everyone for your input…great advice ;)

    I have a sneaking suspicion that my sheets have been irritating my skin.
    For the last 2 months, my skin has got worse…felt like bugs crawling, so, after doctor told me I had scabies; this probably made the skin worse with those treatments. Though I wasn’t stressed, at the time of onset of rashes, the same doctor wanted to put me on a year’s anti-depressants…this stressed me more.
    Then…the other night, when I got into bed, it dawned on me that I had only been using these sheets for a few months…though they are not new.
    Changed them straight away and will see if this works…time will tell.

  • George

    I have a problem with clothing which claims to be all-cotton but is stitched together with polyester thread. When the garment, say a Tshirt, has gone through a few months of washing, I will get maddening irritation, particularly where the shoulder and neck opening is stitched. I think the polyester thread begins to degrade and become irritating. What do I do? I toss the Tshirt, which should have years of wear left.

  • Patti

    Any website suggestions for purchasing formaldehyde free clothing/sheets?

  • Lisa McGrann
    Lisa McGrann

    Has anyone had a reaction to ciprofloxacin? I have a friend that had liver and kidney disease and now has itchy skin, burning skin, and she is having a hard time wearing clothing. Anyone know anything about this? The dermatologist said he thinks she has pluralists? Can this cause itching and burning on all parts of the body? Can anxiety make it worse?

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  • Maria

    Allergy testing complete , I am allergic to Formaldehyde and Gentomycin Suplphate ( antibiotic)
    For formaldehyde allergy avoid the following ingredients :
    o Quaternium-15
    o 2-bromo-2nitropropane-1,3-diol
    o imidazolidinyl urea
    diazolidinyl urea
    Also avoid
    • Fabrics treated with formaldehyde resins and in which some free formaldehyde remains. Formaldehyde resins provide the unique qualities of the following fabrics:
    o Permanent press
    o Anti-cling, anti-static, anti-wrinkle and anti-shrink finishes
    o Chlorine-resistant finishes
    o Stiffening on lightweight nylon knits
    o Waterproof finishes
    o Perspiration proof finishes
    o Moth proof and mildew resistant finishes
    o Suede and chamois

  • Tera Terhune
    Tera Terhune

    I dealt with the same kind of skin sensitivities for 10 years that went un or misdiagnosed. I’d gone to numerous allergist, dermatolgists and clinics… all to no avail. I was finally diagnosed correctly by my new dermatologist who did a biopsy of the skin irritation. Turned out I have a rare, genetic skin disorder called Hailey Hailey disease. It’s typically a later life onset condition. It is genetic and as such has no cure, it’s all about control. There are a few sites on the net with useful info about identifying and dealing with the skin disorder. Keep this in mind when speaking with your dermatologist. After 10 years of frustration, just having a correct diagnosis was an incredible relief…

  • Therese Green
    Therese Green

    I think I have solved my mystery allergy and hopefully it can give you insight into yours!

    After seeing many doctors who diagnosed eczema, I finally got patch tested for chemicals. Since formaldehyde was the only allergen, I googled which foods contain formaldehyde. I learned that many fresh fruits and preserved foods have it. But here is the kicker… your body has enzymes that break down molecules like sugar, proteins and alcohols but one of the by products is formaldehyde!!!! (You can google this yourself at What foods contain formaldehyde?!) Sadly, that means no foods with sugar, or ingredients that turn into sugar. Formaldehyde is also a by-product in digestion of proteins and alcohols.

    Now I eat a clean diet with many low sugar vegetables, low or no carbohydrates, little or no meat, and lots of water to flush out the toxins. Detox teas and herbs will help you flush out the residual toxins out of your system as well. I have lost eight pounds already and feel better.

    I hope this will help all of you who are suffering with the rashes and eczema.

    Be well,

  • Karen

    Hi Shanda
    I have skin allergies to everything except cotton. Polyester is one of the biggest offenders. It cuts my skin and burns it. Though I could avoid the fabrics that caused contact dermatitis (organic cotton garments, underwear & socks), the clothes were sewn with Polyester cotton blend thread. I have found one shirt supplier that sells cotton t shirts in bulk and they use all cotton thread on the white shirts, so the buyer can dye them .

  • Shanda
    Thank you all for your comments! I really am at my wits end. I feel as though I’ve had eczema contact dermatitis my whole life. I’ve suffered from asthma and allergies as well. But since I hit my 40s, my skin itches constantly with red raised itchy patches on my back arms shoulders it seems to be more intense were my undergarments are. Finding 100% cotton brought has helped. However when my itch Starts to come on I can almost feel the inflammation hitting. I can feel the heat rising up in my skin ! When I itch then again it does get dry and burn. I am seeing an allergist many tests and bloodwork. I have a feeling I may be allergic to my clothing after reading all of your comments.


  • Angela

    I feel most relieved to have read this article. In addition, I was having a reaction to Tencel and bamboo which I understand are eco-friendly materials, but are heavily treated with chemicals to achieve the beautifully dyed, smooth no pill fabric. Thanks for the information about the fomaldehyde resins in corduroys which you cannot wash out. I will be looking for natural fabrics like silk and linen that wrinkles. I hope to get my contact dermatitis under control which has been flaring up since February 2016.

  • Maria

    Hi everyone ,
    my dermatologist prescribed Elocon for me – it is a corticosteroid ointment to use and relieve the skin rashes until I get my patch allergy testing . I use it sparingly as it is very strong and long term use may thin the skin . It will do however for the short term . Ask your dermatologist if ELocon could be for you , as a short term solution to skin rashes

  • Maria

    For my (VERY) sensitive skin I use OLIVA soap ( it consists of saponified olive oil , salt and water ) . I use a mixture of olive oil and sugar for my face ( wet skin , apply a small quantity ,wash off with OLIVA soap) . Sometimes I wash my face with OLIVA ,rinse and, on wet skin, I apply coconut oil . I pat dry with a towel .
    For underarm deodorant I use fresh lemon juice (although be careful if you shave – if you put lemon on freshly shaved skin… OUCH! I shave my underarms in the evening and let my skin recover during the night before dabbing lemon juice in the morning .
    No hair dye for me ever as I had a bad allergic reaction to it and no cosmetics or perfumes until I get my patch allergy testing
    Hope you find some of this useful , I will keep trying things and keep everybody posted

  • Amanda

    I have many of the same issues. Email me if anyone has found solutions or just wants to talk. I was diagnosed with an allergy to synthetic hormones in birth control which triggered all my other skin conditions.

  • Mequita

    Don’t forget shampoo can have formaldehyde in it. Always check ingredients.

  • Mequita Praet
    Mequita Praet

    I am a career Histotechnologist ( handled formaldehyde daily in the lab). I developed contact dermatitis 6 months after finishing my medical training 46 years ago. So, I had all the tests to confirm that that was indeed the culprit to my skin issues. After about twenty years of suffering with sore red itchy hands & other itchy areas, armpits, etc. I happened to go to work in a dermpath lab and we had a occupational dermatology specialists on staff. He gave me the answer to my personal issues. Hydrocortisone cream ( the best one not on the market anymore) dampen hands then rub in a small amount of Neutrogena hand cream, then slip on white gotten gloves overnight. I pretty much do this on and off all the time. I use Dreft or All Clear laundry detergent, and Dove soap. Occasionally, if I get dry scaly areas on the face, I will use a soap substitute such as the Cerve, Abolene or Cetaphil. I try to stay on top of things by treating any spots that show up immediately. This regime has pretty much controlled things for the last 20 years. Although, I did try a new eye cream last Christmas that pretty much messed me up for four months. The areas below my eyes stayed red and peeled 5 or 6 times. That was after only a one time application of a tiny bit of cream.

  • Maria

    To all of you out there , a tip from my dermatologist on clothing : If you can see the weave , avoid it . It will irritate your skin regardless of the material .
    It has helped me ,I hope it helps you as well

  • Maria

    Many thanks James , I will try it

  • James

    That was Kent to be Cerave cream. The tablet corrected spelling wrong.

  • James

    Try Cera he moisturizing cream , it also comes in anti itch! Works wonders for me.

  • Maria

    hello all,
    would anyone know how long before an allergic reaction appears and how long before it clears?
    I have been suffering from skin rashes for nearly a year and I have undergone food allergy tests
    (all negative) and I am seeing a dermatologist for further testing next week .
    The rashes are on my back , on my torso and under my armpits . My eyes get puffy and itchy , my nose lining gets irritated and hurts .
    All are painful ,itchy and started suddenly . I have not been able to pinpoint the cause – I have stopped using cosmetics ,polyester,
    viscose and perfumes and my soap is made with olive oil and no added chemicals . No luck yet .

  • Kathleen

    I have been dealing with a burning rash that effects my nervous system, I have very dry patches that I have to exfoliate about twice a week I use a sugar and honey mix. This condition came out of no where about 6 months ago, the only clothes I can wear have to be polyester, there are fibers in cotton that irritate my rash ,it’s worse at night, my husband brought 100% polyester sheets for our bed so I could sleep at night, I also have to use a lot of Vaseline to calm the dryness down , I have tried every cream on the market to no avail .I just started using dove soap and it has helped a lot, I am thinking maybe steam might open my pores and unclog them. I have tried steroid creams every now and than but the dryness keeps coming back, I have it in the creases of my elbows on the inner side ,where I sit on the back of my legs and under my arm pits. When I rub the Vaseline into these areas I get little tiny hard pieces of skin that expel off my body they look like white heads not blackheads, I drink lots of water like they tell you to. I have always had very sensitive skin but I do have to say the Dove soap has helped a lot. I also stopped taking my blood pressure meds and the nerve rash has calmed down a bit I might also be allergic to blood pressure medication , I have had it changed to three different kinds and they all caused me to have a rash and and burning that irritates my nervous system, I will have to try different ones till they find one I can tolerate, this is an awful condition to have, they put me on anxiety medication but I try not to take it because it only masks the condition it doesn’t cure or control it and I do not want to take a controlled substance that I might become addicted to .

  • Seth

    Anyone know the best place to get comprehensive allergy testing done in the UK? I’ve been going to NHS GP for years and only just received a basic allergy blood test (at my request). The don’t seem to do anything unless you request it!

  • Ali Ahmed
    Ali Ahmed

    I have exact same condition as Derick Odor since the last one year "My skin has been irritating me for the past one year and can’t figure out the cause. Doctors advised me to keep avoid in certain foods plus taking antihistamine tabs like citrizen it reduced a bit but not gone. The itching is severe at night especially at the back of my neck, my back, thighs, shoulders and arms. During the day the rashes are common on my arm, they keep appearing early in the morning and disappearing after like three to four hours on a daily. They appear to look like hives from what i read somewhere. I resorted to bathing three times a day it has drastically reduced the hives. "

  • Derrick Odur
    Derrick Odur

    THANK YOU for this information. My skin has been irritating me for the past three months and can’t figure out the cause. Doctors advised me to keep avoid in certain foods plus taking antihistamine tabs like citrizen but all in vain. The itching is severe at night especially at the back of my neck, my back, thighs, shoulders and arms. During the day the rashes are common on my arm, they keep appearing early in the morning and disappearing after like three to four hours on a daily. They appear to look like hives from what i read somewhere. I resorted to using warm water for bathing which at times relieves me from the ishes. But from what I have read here I think I will have to change my wardrobe too and monitor the progress of my skin. I hope this works for me. Thanks a bunch

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  • Annette

    I have had atopic dermatitis for years. I was told to use sensitive skin Dove soap. No scented laundry soap. I use prescription Cordran ointment when I start itching. Hope this helps.

  • Jennifer Hart
    Jennifer Hart

    Message to sterile cotton

    Yes I have experienced this independent movement in new cotton sheets, like it is trying to get you to move away. It Sounds ridiculous – pleased to hear someone else has same experience

  • DIck Brashear
    DIck Brashear

    I have significant allergy to formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasing chemicals, many formaldehyde releasing chemicals (about 10-12) are used in cosmetics as preservatives . Avoid dryer sheets that are put in the dryer. Use laundry detergent ECOS free and clear, use Vanicream shin moisturizer and their hand soap and shampoo etc that do not contain formaldehyde or releasers (Pharmaceuticals Specialties inc, Rochester,MN , ph 800-325-8232 for info and catalogue, Walgreens usually stocks some of their products)

  • Sallie

    Thank you for this info and thanks to everyone who has added comments. My poor husband has suffered horribly from what the doctors have called atopic diabetic dermatitis. We’ve tried all sorts of creams and salves.. Now he’s having light treatments. However, the rash continues. We have a friend who missed a week of work because of contact with wrinkle-free sheets. She developed a terrible rash and has been treated with prednisone. Now we know the material was treated with formaldehyde. Where do we find sheets and clothing completely free of formaldehyde? Let’s keep helping each other. The doctors don’t seem to know what to do.

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