Clothing Allergy: 5 Reasons, 7 Symptoms, and 6 Ways to Control

Clothing Allergy: 5 Reasons, 7 Symptoms, and 6 Ways to Control

Clothing allergy or textile contact dermatitis is common for many.  However, the cause of such skin condition is not actually brought about by the clothes we wear but rather due to the materials and substances embedded within the textile.  There are also other possible reasons why individuals suffer allergies from clothes.

Reasons behind Clothing Allergy

You suffer different symptoms of clothing allergy because of the following:

  1. Washing Powder. Detergents are important ingredients when it comes to cleaning clothes. Unfortunately, numerous commercial detergents contain harmful toxins like dyes and perfumes which encourage allergic reaction in specific individuals.
  2. New Clothing. It comes as a surprise to many that new clothes can actually result to allergic reactions.  Since it is new, they do not wash it. The problem is, new clothes contain formaldehyde which is toxic and can trigger skin itchiness or irritation. This chemical compound is used to keep clothes crease free while displayed or stocked in department stores.
  3. Materials Used. There are different types of textile fabric such as cotton, lycra, wool, silk, corduroy, and jeans, among others.  Different people have differing reactions to such materials. Some can be allergic to lycra or spandex while others with denim clothing. In fact, 6% of the entire U.S. population has an allergy to latex or spandex.
  4. Accessories. Studs, zips, buttons, and buckles can pose allergy problems too, especially if the items contain nickel.
  5. Chemicals Used. Some chemicals like phthalates that are commonly found in plastic, brominated flame retardant, and perfluorinated compounds used in breathable fabrics cause allergies and may even be carcinogenic.

How Clothing Contact Dermatitis Occurs

An allergic reaction to clothing occurs when antibody cells recognize chemical structures of compounds used and found in clothes, then treat them as foreign objects or 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.

Symptoms of Clothing Allergy

Just like any other type of allergies, clothing related allergy symptoms come in different variety of strengths ranging from mild to occasional to even severe reactions.  It varies depending on the kind of triggers you have to deal with.

There are numerous factors to consider when it comes to clothing contact dermatitis as listed in the causes above. As for the symptoms, here they are:

  1. Runny nose possibly caused by inhaling airborne chemicals used in detergents used.
  2. Watery eyes as a result of inflammation running up there in your visual system.
  3. Skin redness which is one of the most common symptoms of allergy, regardless of the reason behind it.
  4. Scaly and itchy skin which may also be accompanied by swelling and inflammation; it is further characterized by cracked and hard skin surfaces.
  5. Blistering and skin lesions when metallic particles merge with sweat
  6. Skin Acne
  7. Inflammation of hair follicles as a result of clothes contamination

Ways to Control Clothing Allergy

Like other kind of allergies, clothing allergy can be avoided also.  But first, let us discuss how clothing allergy is treated.

First, you should visit a physician who can perform an allergy test in order to determine the strength of the allergy and the precise reason behind it.  Normally, your doctor will recommend administering calcineurin or corticosteroids to help relieve the usual symptoms such as rashes and itchiness.  Antihistamines can also be recommended as it is one of the most effective ways to get rid of common allergy symptoms in general.

Now here are easy ways to control clothing allergy:

  1. Wear cotton fabric as cotton is known to be least prone to clothing allergy.
  2. Always wash new clothes before wearing them.
  3. Use only soap and water when washing clothes. As much as possible, lessen, if not completely eliminate the use of fabric conditioner and detergents which contain perfumes and other harsh chemicals.
  4. Determine what causes skin irritation and avoid it. For example, if it is the nickel button in your pants and shirt sleeves, replace it with nylon buttons.
  5. Remove old clothes as it may have accumulated dust and mites over the years.
  6. Always wash your clothes before using them again.
  7. Stop wearing clothes that give you allergy.

As a final word, if you think that the symptoms are severe, contact your dermatologist immediately.  

Browse through Cottonique's unique cotton-made clothing here for allergy-free clothes!

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Comments 40
  • Charlotte

    I believe the crawling and itching is caused by cotton nematodes, which you can sometimes find on the fabric imported from China.

  • Mary

    Been on antihistamines 24/7 repeat prescription from doctor. Realised thought was all synthetic materials and dyes. Bought white/very pale coloured teashirts 100% cotton also lined bras I had as much as possible with 100% cotton material and removed metal fastenings and made into tie type using 100% cotton material plus wear 100% cotton white or light coloured vest type teashirts under bra and another short sleeve teashirts on top. Stopped taking antihistamines and it was heaven. Itch almost totally gone and eczema patches clearing. Also stop foods I know am allergic to or monitor their use very strictly eg small orange one day no more for a week etc. Bananas scrapped totally as are strawberries and pears. Only one brand of cholesterol tablets with the help of my pharmacy all others make me itch. Aspirin/other blood thinners/anti inflamatories/septrin/perfume in anything/nickel absolute no no.

  • Becky

    I have specific allergies I’ve known about and have managed for years: shedding dogs (I don’t care, I own two), flannel, and down. My symptoms are the same for all of these: a migraine headache that is so bad, I pray I’ll die. So mostly I deal with it by avoiding what causes it: absolutely no flannel sheets, and no down bedding. Because one of my two dogs sheds, I deal with my allergy this way: (1) saline packet sinus flushes every night, using a Neil Med flush bottle. 6-8 saline packets in each nostril, Luke warm water. (2) steroid nasal spray called FLUTICASONE; (3) an otc antihistamine called LORATADINE. (4) The shedding dog isn’t allowed on our couch or the bed. Ever! But we bring her dog dander into bed on our feet, so I have to wash our sheets on a strict schedule or I pay for it.

    The reason I’m reading this thread is because we bought a new bed, new mattress, and all new bedding, and I am showing every sign of being allergic.

    After reading these comments, I’m convinced what is causing my headaches is something in the new bedding. I did what I’ve always done, just make the bed with sheets and blankets right from the package. But this time O the headache every night. I find if I double the number of sinus flushes, I’m fine.

    I’m going to wash every single bit of the new bedding – fitted sheet, flat sheet, pillowcases, blankets.

    Thanks for all your comments. It has been affirming to read others’ stories. Nobody understands unless s/he has experienced it.

  • Norma

    I have severe allergies to my clothes. Has to be the chemicals but there is truly no rhyme or reason to it. I do not get a rash but I do get runny nose and my lungs close up. I have only 4 shirts I can wear and not react to. My problem is I react to all cotton which everyone recommends wearing. Polyester has been safe but it’s hard finding it without all the chemicals. This has been the most frustrating thing but when I’m not reacting omg I feel amazing. It’s taken 47 years to figure out what I’ve been reacting to my whole life. Now it’s important to figure this clothing thing out but I’m so clueless and welcome any advice. I do not have insurance and can’t take meditation due to allergies. Any chemicals I come in contact with I react to. I’m a personal trainer so living a life of no asthma attack is vital for me.

  • Pat

    When using Mainstay’s microfiber pillow cases, my chest fills up with phlegm so bad I can almost gargle with it. Remove the case and that problem disappears within minutes.

    I’ve been using plastic garbage bags on pillows for years and leave the plastic on new mattresses, wiping the mattress down once a week. I’ve heard that half the weight of a 10 year old mattress is dust mites and their droppings.

    Indoor allergies are a curse.

  • Shivneri

    I got some rashes when I wore my new
    However my rashes are small red.minute it also clothing allergy.i thought it was some chemical reaction.
    How long does it take for it to subside.

  • pat

    my son got rash thing detergent don’t for you cheap one ;ted plese

  • Kerry

    I itch really bad and can’t wear any kind of trousers or pygarma bottoms to bed. I cant even sleep with someone else who does. Even if their trousers touch me my legs itch and tingle like theres spiders or something crawling on them. It drives me crazy.

  • Gilly

    My clothing allergy tends to be differrent materials and prewashed clothing which is black and white stripes … odd within a few mins of wearing ! Just bought a pair of trousers white with a thin black stripe – these took two days but itch itch rash rash

  • Gilly

    My clothing allergy tends to be differrent materials and prewashed clothing which is black and white stripes … odd within a few mins of wearing ! Just bought a pair of trousers white with a thin black stripe – these took two days but itch itch rash rash

  • Gilly

    My clothing allergy tends to be differrent materials and prewashed clothing which is black and white stripes … odd within a few mins of wearing ! Just bought a pair of trousers white with a thin black stripe – these took two days but itch itch rash rash

  • Amelia  Hall
    Amelia Hall

    My granddaughter just purchased a very expensive wedding dress for her wedding in early March. When she tried it on for fittings it became obvious that she is allergic to the skirt fabric. What can she do to let her wear it a few hours for her wedding?? Her skin becomes hot and sweaty and she breaks out in s rash.

    Would wearing white tights under it help or is there a steroid she could take to get her through her special day? This is a CATASTROPHE! HELP PLEASE!

  • Michele

    I’m really reacting to chemicals in new clothing, new shoes, etc. One thing I want to share is for me unscented plant based detergent like Seventh Generation unscented works well, Tide unscented burns my hands! Less chemicals to react to. Clean home with Benefect, use Cleure shampoo, Dr Bronner’s soap. It’s hard to identify which allergen, because no one tells us what they’ve done to articles prior to purchase. Just wish you best of luck.

  • Stefani

    I use woolite on all my clothes . I had the itching in the seams of my jeans tried everything so finally I got rid of them an went for woolite. But now new shirts are itching badly making me bleed but I haven’t washed them yet. I always shower with pure olive oil soap once in a while I cheat but I always get itching after non olive oil soap.

  • Susan Lathrop
    Susan Lathrop

    I think I have a fabric allergy but how do you figure it out? I am baffled and for a while it went away. It is on the inside of my legs so I think it might be jeans. Can anyone help me. I do have food allergies. Does anyone have a food allergy that just affects the inside of their legs???

  • Debbie

    I have latex allergies which is in spandex and text tile materials I have a hard time finding clothes even shoesWhen I wear latex type material I get very fatigue my eyes water my nose runsAlso my tongue swells up I carry a EpiPen never had to use it yet and I’m also allergic to Clover oil it is in the glue the dentist uses for a temporary cap I only wear cotton clothes and I stay Away from anything made with text tile material or siliconeI hope this helps people because some of your information helped me knowing that I’m not crazy

  • Debbie

    I have latex allergies which text tile material uses Late textI have a hard time finding clothes even shoesWhen I wear late tax type material I get very fatigue I feel that my inside swallow my eyes water my nose runsAlso my tongue swells up I carry a EpiPen never had to use it yet and I’m also allergic to Clover oil it is in the glue the dentist uses for a temporary cap I only wear cotton clothes and I stay away from anything that says textile I hope this helps people because some of your information helped me knowing that I’m not crazy

  • Hea Law
    Hea Law

    I have an allergy to a family of chemicals called mercaptobenzothiazole and Mercapto mixes. It is an anyi molding agent and accelerant used in many elastics, ru. er abd adhesives. I had many doctors tell me I had a latex allergy, but I knew that wasnt quite right because I was allergic to products without latex. Took me 25 years to find an allergist who properly diagnosed me. Among many other things I am allergic to many brands of bras, underwear, elastic waistbamds, socks, swim suits, sport and workout clothing and gear, and many shoes.

  • Betty

    Recommend Charlies Laundry Detergent, Sierra socks, Vanicream skin care and their Free and Clear hair products. I too have severe allergies including colophony, PPD and more. Abundant Blessings

  • Betty

    I have replaced all wardrobe with Love It!!!!!

  • Deborah Spencer
    Deborah Spencer

    Anyone have experience using the brand “South of France” Herbes de Provence flavor? I used it when the bars were rectangular shaped but I’ve read that the new oval shapes is being produced with significant alcohol based fragrance vs. essential oils.

  • martyn

    Last week I was shopping for a new suit in a designer clothing store and I tried two suits on. Several hours after trying these suits on (I didn’t buy any btw), I began to have constant irritation at the bottom of my back, where the top of my bum crack starts (sorry to be graphic lol). Now the tissue under the skin in these areas is starting to become slightly inflamed and numb/tingling sensation progressing further cross and into my bum crack. It’s also not red or rash like and I have a tiny patch on my foot that has shown similar signs but not as fierce.

    I never usually have allergies to anything, I’ve not changed my washing powder or shower gel or anything else for that matter for a while. I’m wondering if the customer who tried these trousers before me was unhygienic and passed something onto me. Any advice please?

  • Jo

    I use coal tar soap. Take probiotics (a lot of issues start in the gut) I avoid wine and spirits, I went vegan. After showering I immediately apply a mix of coconut oil, shea butter and cocoa Butter. I avoid getting over heated. I avoid letting the sun touch my bear skin. I take multivitamins for skin. Try to drink plenty of water. When I have a psoriasis flare up I immediately apply betnovate twice a day for a couple of days and it goes again. Try to avoid stress. Tried gluten free for 18 months but found it did not help me. Avoid tight or scratchy fabrics. This thread has been very useful. I will buy extra Zinc and try again to find a chemical free way to wash clothes. My skin issues have almost gone at the moment but as we head in to summer I’m sure it will flare again and then there’s winter to dread with the central heating drying my skin out in no time.

  • Alex

    Wool makes my eyes itch and my nose clogged up. I can’t avoid wool completely and start sneezing on the bus or train when someone next to me is wearing a woolen scarf, coat or suit.
    Any suggestions apart from moving to the tropics, where nobody wears wool?

  • Julie Tevis
    Julie Tevis

    I get the same allergic reaction on my chest to new clothes. It started happening about 3 years ago. I went crazy trying to figure it out. It finally dawned on me that it was my clothes. I did some research and found some clothing companies that don’t use harsh chemicals. And it WORKED!!! Every now and then I get optimistic and buy a “normal” shirt in a store and the rash comes back. It’s beyond annoying, but I’m glad I found clothing that I can finally wear. The Eileen Fisher is pricey, which stinks, but sometime Nordstrom Rack will have them. Still not cheap, but definitely worth it for comfort. Also, Mom’s Organic Market sells clothes too!

    GOTS certified clothing is what you want. They have strict guidelines for clothing manufacturing. And don’t use harsh chemicals. And can be organic too.

    Clothing companies I can wear and NOT get rash:



  • miro

    I am coe of The blog is very informative.The content is very awosom.

  • Allison Farmer
    Allison Farmer

    The only thing that has helped me is wiping my self down with apple cider vinegar it really works stopps all itching and clears up any rash 2 or 3 times a week .

  • Donene

    I use soap berries for laundry (all natural/chemical free) and shea butter (from Africa) to tame my itchy skin. It may take about 10 minutes but it works. Shea butter can be obtain at health stores or on line — only buy “100% raw unrefined, organic, natural, free of fertilizer, pesticides, chemicals” from a reputable source. It has many other great skin and hair benefits — do a search to find out more.



  • Namadhira

    What soap do you recommend to wash clothes? What can I do before and after I wear a clothing type that I am allergic to as some clothes I really want to wear?

  • Joanne Langyel
    Joanne Langyel

    I itch from literally all kinds of material if it isn’t my old clothing that is all worn out and ripping then I pitch from it whether it’s a stretchy material cotton material silly materi all kinds of materials which my skin I am at my ends rope because I’m pretty soon all my clothes are really falling apart from being so old and cannot wear anymore and I cannot find it clothing to wear because I buy new clothes and they just ditch me I wash them before wearing them and I still itch severely all over my legs my back those are the only spots that have the itching and I don’t understand why I use all clear free laundry soap I’ve been to the dermatologist is all they tell me is dry skin I lotion of my body three times a day with unscented free lotion like the dermatologist told me and it don’t help a bit I take allergy medicine three times a day it’s not helping I am going to need clothing to wear I cannot go out with Nick in the nude I have small children I can’t sit around my house with nothing on so I don’t itch this is Extreme if anybody has any ideas please help

  • Narayan

    For over 2 years I used sneeze early morning, then few months back I had this tag itching problem suddenly, even for old shirts.. I took Zinc Sulfate 200mg for about 3 weeks for sneezing, along with sneezing tag itching problem also cured with Zinc.

  • Mary

    Yes. I have struggled for 20 yrs. with increasing reactions to new clothing. I soak them for days and wash them over and over. Avoidance is impossible. foams bother me as well in shoes. I actually, when I try different stretchy jeans for instance. Get light headed and feel like I had a few drinks. My self esteem is so low, and wearing old clothes out dated etc. to avoid new ones, well, let’s say people judge you for your exterior and they do not understand why I dress old fashioned. No matter how many times I was the new clothing it does not help. Loss of 1000s of dollars throwing away or donating clothes I couldn’t ware. Thought after going through cancer a couple yrs. ago I could just throw on clothes and ignore the effects due to thinking after going through cancer I could put up with anything after that. Unfortunately my thinking did not help. I just get so light headed wearing these new items. I really need anyone to give me some info what chemical/materials may be setting me off. I used to be able to wear all cotton (hard to find though now) but I noticed something in the cotton has started to bother me as well.
    please help with suggestions.
    thank you

  • Charles Harris
    Charles Harris

    I started a new job and after three days of wearing their shirts I have a bunch of big red dots that look like acne but feel very tender and painful to move my arms because they are directly under my arm pits. It hurts to move my arms in any direction

  • sherry

    I am 100% allergic to cotton clothing. What would you recommend

  • JEnnifer KWiek
    JEnnifer KWiek

    I can not wear a lot of fabrics.

  • Lisa Beaudoin
    Lisa Beaudoin

    First I spray down with Windex which really does help. Then I started prewashing and using homemade detergent… I use an old Purex container and put in 2 1/2cups of baking soda and 2 cups of apple cider vinegar you can also use regular white vinegar and then I pre-soak the clothes which that acts as a fabric softener. It helps immensely.

  • miranda

    this aint even help me i was doing a report

  • ALi

    Ok use 5th generation free and clear. That seems to be the best for me so far. Bras give me allergies.

  • Lisa

    What soap do you recommend to wash clothes with? I’m using All Free and Clear but I think I might be having new problems with that now. Thank you!

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